Burlington, VT: Mayor Miro Weinberger today at a news conference outside the Burlington Town Center announced the formation of a unique City partnership with institutions, utilities, district energy advocates, and landowners to bring Burlington the potential for significant energy savings. Through the new partnership, the Burlington Electric Department on behalf of the City, Vermont Gas Systems, the Burlington Town Center, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the University of Vermont, and the Burlington District Energy System together will work with Corix Utilities to explore the potential of creating a district energy system that likely would begin in the downtown and expand to include capturing waste heat from Burlington Electric’s McNeil Generating Station.
“After many years of leadership on conservation and renewable energies, today Burlington is taking an important step toward achieving a cost efficiency and environmental goal that has eluded us for many years: establishing a district energy system in Burlington,” stated Mayor Weinberger. “As Burlington continues to shape its future by integrating its existing energy infrastructure with renewable power, we are fortunate that the Burlington Town Center project and Don Sinex’s commitment to bettering the Burlington community have provided this unique opportunity to explore the potential for district energy for the City. District energy has the potential to bring significant savings and long-term energy stability to Burlington’s major employers.”
“Once again, Burlington Electric is leading through energy innovation,” stated Neale Lunderville, General Manager of Burlington Electric Department. “Having been the first city in the nation to source 100 percent of our power from renewable generation, this partnership between public institutions, private companies, and community leaders, as well as Burlington’s local gas and electric utilities, is a significant milestone on our journey toward a more sustainable energy future.”
Lunderville continued, “The Burlington Town Center redevelopment is a game-changer for district energy in the Queen City. Without the strong commitment from both the Town Center and Vermont Gas, our options to create a roadmap for district energy in Burlington were becoming slim. By looking at the new development’s whole energy picture – that is, looking at both thermal and electric needs through the lens of new technologies – we’ve been able to fuel momentum toward making district energy a reality.”
John St. Hilaire, Vice President of Operations at Vermont Gas Systems, stated: “Vermont Gas is focused on innovative projects that will help reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency as we move toward a clean energy future. This partnership with the City of Burlington is a unique way to continue to expand our resources within our existing footprint and showcase how a natural gas utility plays an integral part in our changing energy landscape.”
Background: Multiple efforts over many years to create value using McNeil waste heat
The potential positive contributions of a district energy system (DES) in Burlington have been advocated for decades by a group of engaged community stakeholders. As far back as 1994, Burlington Electric has studied and evaluated the district energy opportunity for Burlington. Feasibility studies were conducted and reports prepared for the City in 1994, 1996, 1998, and 2002 with little progress after the publication of those reports. Founded in 2007, the Burlington District Energy System (BURDES) Committee, a group of interested local citizens, has worked to move a Burlington district energy project forward through the development of both financial and technical feasibility studies for the downtown, UVM MC, UVM, and other Burlington customers. In 2014, Burlington Electric, UVM MC, and UVM engaged Ever-Green Energy to complete a district energy feasibility study. The Ever-Green report concluded that, although the project was technically feasible, a number of other factors, including the low price of natural gas, made it infeasible at that time.
Thereafter, having appointed Lunderville in July 2014 as the new General Manager at Burlington Electric, Mayor Weinberger tasked Lunderville with exploring one final effort to either find a way to move forward with the long-sought district energy plan or determine definitively that the effort was not feasible. Lunderville worked closely with BURDES, UVM MC, and UVM to rigorously review previous studies and develop a comprehensive financial model to understand the economic issues. Ultimately, by bringing the Burlington Town Center redevelopment project (with its significant new load), as well as Vermont Gas (with its extensive thermal experience), to the table, the partners saw new life for a district energy system. BED sought experienced outside partners to bid on the work, which attracted five viable proposals, including one from Corix Utilities.
Burlington Electric and Vermont Gas, along with BTC, UVM MC, UVM, and BURDES, found Corix to be an experienced and talented partner, selecting them for the project. Corix is a privately held, community-focused corporation with international experience in providing utility infrastructure services, management, and products for municipal, institutional, military, and private-sector customers. Corix will be working with these community organizations to evaluate and understand the technical and financial viability of a Burlington-based DES, including the optimal structure for implementation, and will by June 2017 provide a definitive roadmap and implementation strategy for a DES in Burlington. The cost of the initial engagement with Corix will be evenly shared by Burlington Electric, Vermont Gas, BTC, UVM MC, and UVM with each funding one fifth of the cost of the implementation strategy study up to a total maximum cost of $75,000 for the entire study.
How the Burlington district energy system would work and the Corix roadmap
A district energy system allows for the provision of heat and hot water to customers by creating a thermal grid (like an electric grid, but for heat instead of electricity) from energy sources around the City. The principal source of energy for a DES in Burlington is available through the recovery of waste heat from Burlington Electric’s McNeil Generating Station, a 50-megawatt, biomass-powered generating station. That renewable energy generating process creates a tremendous amount of heat. Capturing that waste heat and converting it to usable energy through a DES will increase the efficiency of McNeil and decrease the amount of waste heat released into the environment.
Energy would be transported through an underground distribution system of pipes running from McNeil between the Burlington Town Center (BTC), the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVM MC), and selected University of Vermont (UVM) buildings. Additional energy sources may include, but would not be limited to, solar thermal, geothermal, and other heat recovery methods.
The new concept that emerged over the last year during the request for proposals process was the recognition that the addition of substantial new downtown load through the redevelopment of BTC made the downtown district viable.
“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to help make district energy a reality in the new Burlington Town Center,” said Eric van Roon, Sr. Vice President at Corix. “When we look at all the different community leaders who have stepped up to support the project – from the Mayor’s Office to Burlington Electric to the University of Vermont, the University of Vermont Medical Center and other community and business leaders – it gives us a high degree of confidence that the right team is in place to position Burlington as a leader in energy delivery. Corix’s experience delivering successful district energy projects across North America tells us that district energy is financially viable, environmentally responsible, and highly reliable, but it takes a team all working together to deliver it. Corix is looking forward to being part of that team in Burlington.”
Regarding next steps, van Roon added, “Over the next several months, we will work with the community stakeholders to determine the most efficient and cost effective means of staging and phasing the infrastructure to establish the district energy backbone, affordably connect new and existing buildings, and optimize the use of renewable energy in Burlington.”
Jan Schultz, BURDES co-founder and former Burlington Electric Commissioner, stated: “We are excited about the recent progress made with Burlington Electric having engaged Corix and the participation of the various parties working together to take the next step toward a more sustainable city and a more efficient McNeil Station.”
Don Sinex, Managing Director at Devonwood Investors, owner of the Burlington Town Center, stated: “We’re very excited that our project, in addition to creating more affordable housing, commercial office and retail space, road connectivity and streetscape improvements, also may fulfill the long-desired goal of bringing district energy to downtown Burlington. We are committed to transforming the Burlington Town Center into a leading model for green, sustainable downtown development and look forward to using district energy as a significant part of that success.”
Dawn LeBaron, Vice President Hospital Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center, stated: “We are excited to continue the conversation with partners across the City around district energy planning. This is an important conversation as we look to advance our efforts around environmental sustainability.”
Thomas Gustafson, Vice President for University Relations and Administration at the University of Vermont, who was unable to attend the announcement, shared the following: “The University of Vermont has been a long-time proponent of the concept of district energy, over the years constructing and utilizing the largest district heating and cooling system in the State of Vermont. Most of our buildings are connected to this system. We also support the use of renewable, sustainable energy sources, including the McNeil Generating Station, provided that it is done in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Importantly, it must protect affordability for our primary constituents – especially our students. UVM is excited about the new approach to this long-standing challenge that has emerged in the conversations with Corix, and UVM will continue its participation in the process to assess the feasibility of creating a district energy system to serve downtown Burlington, the University of Vermont Medical Center, and selected UVM campus buildings not currently connected to UVM’s internal district system, and we look forward to the completion of this study.”
Karen Paul, City Councilor and former Chair of the Burlington Electric Commission, stated: ““Good ideas, even great ideas, are not always adopted and acted upon quickly. They must be driven into practice with courage, patience and fortitude. BED has a long tradition, and national recognition, for being ahead of the curve, and the move to district energy is no exception. District energy was being talked about when I began serving on the Electric Commission in 1996. Our community owes a great thanks to the early adopters who kept the conversation going and to our business and institutional partners without whom we would not be here today. Also, we must thank our guiding champions like Mayor Miro Weinberger, BED General Manager Neale Lunderville, and the amazing BED staff team, whose inspiring leadership and willingness to approach challenges with zeal and determination helped us reach this day. District energy is a great idea, and I remain hopeful that its time finally has come.”
Kelly Devine, representative of Together for Progress, Executive Director of the Burlington Business Association, and member of Building Homes Together, stated: “Burlington needs to create more housing for all, more downtown office space, and more opportunities for locally owned business in all areas of the City. The Burlington Town Center project is a critical next step. The fact that it strengthens the viability of district energy in Burlington is an added benefit. The Burlington Town Center project furthers Burlington’s climate action and clean lake goals. Taking the next step on district energy will help ensure a bright future for Burlington. We are and we will continue to be an amazing place to call home.”
Gabrielle Stebbins, Chair of the Burlington Electric Commission, stated: “For years, the Burlington Electric Commission has heard Queen City residents express a strong interest in moving toward greater energy efficiency through district energy. Today, with this partnership, marks a great step forward in harnessing this opportunity.”
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