McNeil Generating Station
111 Intervale Road, Burlington, VT 05401 | (802) 864-7446
McNeil Myth vs. Fact
Myth – McNeil runs on fossil fuels.
Fact – McNeil runs on renewable wood chips. The wood used is harvested primarily in Vermont and upstate New York within a 60-70 mile radius of the plant. While McNeil is technically capable of running on other fuels, such as natural gas, we would do so only in an emergency if needed for grid reliability and sufficient wood was not available.
Myth – We can replace McNeil with solar or wind.
Fact – McNeil’s operations and runtime are very different than solar or wind. For example, McNeil can stockpile fuel throughout the year and then run nearly 24/7 in the winter when energy prices are high. This practice protects Vermont utility customers from volatile fossil fuel prices. McNeil can also vary its output by 0.4 MW/minute from 15-50 MW based on the needs of the electric market and can shut down if the grid has excess power.
McNeil largely displaces natural gas on the regional grid when it operates. If McNeil were taken offline, this renewable energy source would be replaced with even greater regional reliance on natural gas. Regional reliance on gas can, in turn, cause regional reliability concerns in the winter. We need all renewables complementing each other to help reliably provide power and decarbonize the New England grid.
Myth – McNeil is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel plants.
Fact – McNeil has a smaller carbon profile than fossil fuels. As a renewable resource, it displaces natural gas generation in New England. Third-party analysis by the experts at VEIC (the organization that runs Efficiency Vermont) shows that McNeil reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 85% compared to natural gas generators even when the transportation emissions associated with McNeil fuel deliveries are included and potential natural gas losses in transmission are ignored.
Myth – McNeil is too costly.
Fact – McNeil insulates Vermont ratepayers from the volatile and currently historically high energy prices on the regional grid in New England, particularly during the summer and winter peak times. Without McNeil’s operation in fiscal year 2023 alone, BED would have been required to seek an approximate 20% rate increase to compensate for the higher power costs (this would be in addition to the pending 3.95% rate increase request).
Myth – McNeil’s harvesting of wood is not sustainable.
Fact – McNeil employs a team of four professional foresters who work with landowners to ensure they are harvesting sustainably. McNeil’s harvests only account for approximately 4% of all new growth harvests. Approximately half of all new forest growth in Vermont is unharvested and continues to contribute to additional forest cover.
Third-party analysis by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions (see page 88) found that areas from where McNeil has received fuel as a byproduct from harvests have increased their forest carbon sequestration in recent years. By working with local landowners, McNeil supports them in keeping their lands as working lands, instead of developing or subdividing them.
Photo Gallery: McNeil Generating Station Uses Sustainably Harvested Wood
Myth – I see smoke and pollution coming from McNeil.
Fact – The most prominent visible phenomenon at the facility is water vapor from the cooling towers that is visible when the plant is operating. This is not smoke but moisture suspended in the air which is a result of cooling water. To the extent that “smoke” is visible coming from the stack, the majority of the visible stack discharge is, in fact, steam. Thanks to McNeil’s pollution control equipment, installed in 2008, emissions are far below what federal and state permits require.
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.
McNeil Generating Station Q&A
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.
How much electricity is produced?
At full load, the plant generates 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity, about enough for the needs of Burlington.
How much fuel does the McNeil Station use?
At full load, approximately 76 wet tons of wood chips are consumed per hour (about 30 cords). McNeil is a biomass fueled power plant and operates on clean, untreated wood fuel (wood chips) but has the capability to operate on natural gas or fuel oil (minimum load on fuel oil only) in case of an emergency.
Does the McNeil Station use other fuel sources?
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.
What about air emissions from McNeil?
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.
How is the wood inventory controlled?
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.
Where does the wood for the McNeil Station come from?
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.
What does a wood chip harvest look like?
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.
How much does wood fuel cost?
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.
Where does McNeil’s water come from?
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.
What happens to “waste” water?
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.
What is done with the ashes?
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 Station & Equipment Facts
|Generator gross output||55 megawatts|
|Net station electrical production||50 megawatts|
|Generator voltage||13,800 volts|
|Turbine/generator speed||3,600 revolutions per minute|
|Steam pressure at the turbine throttle||1,275 pounds per square inch|
|Steam temperature||950° Fahrenheit|
|Steam flow||500,000 pounds per hour|
|Fuel consumption (wood)||76 tons per hour|
|Cooling water flow||42,000 gallons per minute|
|Electrostatic precipitator voltage||30,000 volts DC|
|Air temperature on the top floor||110° Fahrenheit|
|Stack height||257 feet|
|Building height||132 feet|
|Boiler firebox height||80 feet|
|Heaviest boiler section, upper drum||72 tons|
|Weight of turbine/generator||183 tons|
|Largest electric motor, induced draft fan||2,500 horsepower|
|Number of electric motors||320 motors (approx.)|
|Number of condenser tubes||5,362 tubes|
|Cooling tower basin capacity||500,000 gallons|
|Boiler capacity, water side||39,300 gallons|
|Length of electric wire||32 miles (approx.)|
McNeil Station Joint Ownership Operating Committee
Meeting minutes are posted in draft format within five days.
Approval of those minutes will then be voted on at the following meeting.
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