The McNeil Generating Station is jointly owned by BED (operator and 50% owner), Green Mountain Power (31%) and Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (19%). There are 40 people employed at the station. Employees include a maintenance crew, equipment operators, fuel handlers, foresters and administrative and engineering support personnel. A minimum staff of four is needed to operate the station at any given time.
During the 1970s, the rising demand for electricity and the retirement of some existing power sources prompted BED to look for ways to provide additional power to meet the city's growing need for electricity. BED conducted studies to find a fuel source that would be locally available, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally acceptable. Wood scored high on all counts. Using wood fuel would put money back into the Vermont economy, improve the condition of Vermont’s forests and provide jobs for Vermonters. That is how the Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station came to be. In 1978 71 percent of the voters supported the bond to finance construction of the plant. A Certificate of Public Good, which ensures that the McNeil Station operates in a manner that will protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public and maintain the quality of the natural environment, was approved by the Vermont Public Service Board on Sept. 14, 1981. Final construction cost was $67 million ($13 million under budget), and the unit was completed ahead of schedule. It came on line and started to produce power for the New England grid in June of 1984.
At full load, the plant generates 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity, about enough for the needs of Burlington.
At full load, approximately 76 tons of wood chips are consumed per hour (about 30 cords). When the plant is operating at full load on gas, it uses 550,000 cubic feet of gas per hour.
Yes. It can run on natural gas and oil. In 1989 the Burlington Electric Commission accepted a proposal from Vermont Gas Systems to supply gas to McNeil on an interruptible basis between May and November of each year. In October 1989, the capability to burn natural gas was added. While wood remains the primary fuel, the addition of gas allows McNeil to diversify its fuel options. The station can also use fuel oil or any combination of wood, gas or oil.
McNeil is equipped with a series of air quality control devices that limit the particulate stack emissions to one-tenth the level allowed by Vermont state regulation. McNeil's emissions are one one-hundredth of the allowable federal level. The only visible emission from the plant is water vapor during the cooler months of the year. In 2008, McNeil voluntarily installed a $12 million Regenerative Selective Catalytic Reduction system, which reduced the Nitrogen Oxide emissions to 1/3 of the state requirement.
The station has a wood procurement and storage plan. The wood chip piles at McNeil are limited in size and are monitored to ensure they do not reach the early stages of decomposition. The wood fuel is consumed on a first-in, first-out basis to control the age of the material.
Mostly the wood comes from within 60 miles of the station. Ninety-five percent comes from logging residue and cull material created when harvesting higher value wood products. Harvests are conducted in accordance with strict environmental standards specified by the Vermont Public Service Board.
The wood is chipped at the harvest site and delivered in trailer trucks to the plant or to a railcar loading facility in Swanton; at least 75 percent comes by rail. A small portion arrives in an unprocessed form that can be stored and chipped when needed. McNeil Station also purchases lumber-making byproducts such as bark and shavings or clean urban wood waste.
Most harvests are partial cuts designed to improve growing conditions for the remaining trees. When a new crop of trees needs to be created or when wildlife habitat improvement practices require it, small areas may be cleared after approval from a professional forester. McNeil also receives wood from site conversions for development or agricultural expansion. BED’s foresters monitor each harvest operation to see that wood is harvested properly. The station’s wood suppliers are required to conduct their activities in accordance with strict standards to protect the environment.
The wood cost depends on such factors as hauling distance, transportation method and the type of material. Wood hauled directly to the plant is less expensive than wood that is reloaded and shipped by rail. Current wood costs range between $22.00 and $33.00 per ton delivered by truck. Rail transport and extra handling adds about $7.00 per ton.
There are four wells located approximately 4,000 feet north of the station. The output of any one well is enough to replace water losses at the plant. Most water losses occur in the cooling tower by evaporation.
Water removed from the McNeil Station is monitored for pH, temperature, flow and metals. It is treated to maintain a balanced pH, allowed to cool to a temperature that will not adversely affect aquatic life and then pumped to the Winooski River (located about 1,000 feet east of the plant). Except for dissolved mineral salts, the regulated discharge of waste water going to the Winooski River is comparable in quality to the water drawn from station wells.
Wood ash, the end-product of burning wood fuel, is temporarily placed on site in a landing area. BED works with a private contractor who transports the ash and markets it as a soil conditioner for pH control and a source of potash and potassium. McNeil ash is approved as a soil conditioner for organic crops. The heavier portion of the ash (bottom ash) is used as a base for building roads or an additive for manufactured topsoil.
McNeil's Waste Wood Yard
Located just beyond the McNeil Generating Station on Intervale Road, the Waste Wood Yard accepts clean waste wood, tree trimmings, and more. Read more details and hours of operation.
McNeil Station & Equipment Facts
|Generator gross output
|Net station electrical production
||3,600 revolutions per minute
|Steam pressure at the turbine throttle
||1,275 pounds per square inch
||500,000 pounds per hour
|Fuel consumption (wood)
||76 tons per hour
|Fuel consumption (gas)
||550,000 cubic feet per hour
|Cooling water flow
||42,000 gallons per minute
|Electrostatic precipitator voltage
||30,000 volts DC
|Air temperature on the top floor
|Boiler firebox height
|Heaviest boiler section, upper drum
|Weight of turbine/generator
|Largest electric motor, induced draft fan
|Number of electric motors
||320 motors (approx.)
|Number of condenser tubes
|Cooling tower basin capacity
|Boiler capacity, water side
|Length of electric wire
||32 miles (approx.)
McNeil Station Joint Ownership Operating Committee
Meeting Minutes (PDF):