Home » Hole in the ground will soon be a new power plant at Hotchkiss

Hole in the ground will soon be a new power plant at Hotchkiss

LAKEVILLE — From Route 41, motorists and golfers can mainly see the fencing where The Hotchkiss School’s biomass energy facility is under construction.On the other side of the fence, where visitors need to don a hard hat, the dimensions of the building are easier to imagine.Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives, wants to reassure anyone looking at the hole in the ground and wondering what the end result will look like.The 58-foot chimney (or “stack”) won’t break the tree line, he said.The roof will have vegetation on it, for aesthetic reasons and to help control water runoff.The area behind the building will be finished with swales designed to prevent any impact on abutting wetlands. Hahn said “the runoff will be cleaner when it runs into the wetlands” than at present.The site will be repopulated with native plants. “Not lawn,” Hahn said firmly. “We’re using plants that are known to filter.”Mindful of golfers, Hahn said, “We have taken great pains not to encroach on the golf course. None of the season has been interrupted.”As if anticipating skepticism, he added, “Right now it looks a lot closer to the golf course than it will be.”There may be a couple of days in October when it will be necessary to stop traffic on Route 41 to allow for transport of pipes.In the hole itself, a visitor can see the large area where the biomass fuel (wood chips) will be stored and where the actual boilers will go.The boilers will arrive in November, and the plan is to have the shell of the building up and the boilers in by Thanksgiving.The plant should be operational by July 2012.What is emitted from the stack will be mostly steam, Hahn said. The chips burn and the smoke goes through a series of scrubbers before meeting up with a device called an “electrostatic precipitator.”The fly ash is charged electrically, and is collected on steel plates with the opposite charge. Think of magnets and the idea becomes clear.Fly ash particles are decharged, collected and reburned.By the time this process is finished, all that’s left from a load of wood chips “are one or two barrels of ash the consistency of baby powder,” Hahn said.The plant has two primary goals. Hahn said the school’s carbon footprint will be reduced by between one third and one half.“And the building itself teaches. It connects students in a real way with the practical aspects of green energy.”Already, students from Simon’s Rock (part of Bard College) in Great Barrington, Mass., have visited.Hahn is also quick to point out that the school is using contractors from the area — O & G Construction of Torrington is the general contractor, and Fay and Wright Excavating of Goshen is on the site now.Hahn said the project’s genesis began when the school decided to replace the Bissell dormitory. The existing central heating building is located behind that dorm.“So we looked at the whole heating system, should we replace the old boilers or should we try something innovative and in line with our mission and values.”At a public hearing about the plant at Salisbury Town Hall on Oct. 5, 2010, reaction from the public was mixed, as reported at that time by The Lakeville Journal. For the full story go online at www.tricornernews.com.At that hearing David Bayersdorfer of Salisbury said, “There are distinct and passionate points of view for and against” biomass energy. He expressed concern about truck traffic from wood chip deliveries, and the impact on the golf course (which is open to the public).Also at that hearing, Star Childs of Norfolk, whose family owns the Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk and Falls Village, said the production of wood chips is a plus for foresters, because they can be “harvested from trees that have little or no value” except as firewood.The school arranged for a cherry picker to be on site for several days, to demonstrate the height of the chimney — 58 feet — in late October 2010.P&Z approved the plan on Nov. 3, 2010.Part of that meeting was a continuation of the public hearing at which neighbor Janet Moss asked how many trucks would be delivering the wood-chip fuel to the facility. Hahn said that during the peak use period in winter, one or two trucks would deliver chips daily. During warmer months, the activity will be quite a bit less — one or two trucks per week.Salisbury P&Z Commissioner Jon Higgins asked how emissions will be monitored.Engineering consultant John Hinkley explained that the emissions are calculated from annual fuel consumption. He also said that the plant will have a system of internal controls. The permit requires daily inspection of the electrostatic precipitator.Hinkley added that the emissions report used a federal Environmental Protection Agency model and set a worst-case scenario, with the plant running at 100 percent.“We then added a worst-case existing pollutants scenario and still came in well below the standard,” he reported.The facility is being monitored by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection during construction. The state agency will continue to monitor it once it’s up and running.Hinkley said testing of the chimney stack — which will have ports built in specifically for the purpose — is currently required every two years, but added he expects that regulation to change in favor of annual testing.The commission voted unanimously Nov. 3 to approve the special permit, contingent upon meeting all applicable regulations and conditions, and with the understanding that the plant will be a wood-burning facility with a back-up fuel source of oil; it will not be burn natural gas (that had been an option in an earlier version of the application.)

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