Burlington Electric Department
Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station
Integrated Resource Plan
Account Login Help
Problem Logging In?

Become a Facebook Fan
Follow us on Twitter

McNeil facts                     Wood fuel facts                   McNeil's Waste Wood Yard Hours of Operation

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, non-polluting and publicly acceptable. Wood scored high on all counts. Using wood fuel as a generation source would put money back into the Vermont economy, improve the condition of our forests and provide jobs for Vermonters. That's how the Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station came to be. Construction of the station required Burlington voter approval. The bond issue went before the voters in 1978 to request authorization to finance construction. It passed with a favorable vote of 71 percent.

A Certificate of Public Good was approved by the Vermont Public Service Board on September 14, 1981. This certificate 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. The final cost of constructing the McNeil Station was $67 million ($13 million under budget), and the unit was completed ahead of schedule.

The McNeil Station is jointly owned by BED (50 percent), Green Mountain Power (31 percent) and Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (19 percent).

Where does the wood for the McNeil Station come from?
Ninety-five percent of the wood that is used at McNeil comes from logging residue and cull material created when harvesting higher value wood products. This material is chipped at the harvest site and delivered in trailer trucks to the plant or to a railcar loading facility in Swanton, VT.  McNeil receives at least 75 percent of its wood fuel by rail. A small portion of the logging residue component arrives in an unprocessed form that can be stored and chipped when needed.

The remaining portion of McNeil Station’s wood fuel requirements are met through purchases of lumber-making byproducts such as bark and shavings or clean urban wood waste.  Waste wood that is free of contaminants makes a fine fuel and reduces the volume of material buried in landfills.

The Biomass Energy Resource Center and the State of Vermont recently estimated the amount of currently unused annual growth of low grade wood in Vermont at about 900,000 tons per year.  This is enough material to fuel two additional facilities the size of McNeil and does not take into consideration additional material available from surrounding states within an economical hauling distance.

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.

How is the wood inventory controlled?

The station has a wood procurement and storage plan that provides control of our wood on site. The wood chip piles 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.

Does the McNeil Station use other fuel sources?
The Burlington Electric Commission accepted a proposal from Vermont Gas Systems in 1989 to supply gas to the McNeil Generating Station on an interruptible basis between May and November of each year. In October 1989, the capability to burn natural gas was added to the McNeil Station.

While wood remains the plant's primary fuel, the addition of gas allows McNeil to diversify its fuel options. The gas installation was completed by McNeil personnel on schedule and $200,000 under budget. McNeil employees received a tremendous amount of training by doing the installation. More than 2,000 feet of piping was purchased, installed, supported, welded, cleaned and tested, and 4 1/2 miles of wiring was installed and inspected. The final outcome was a well-operating system: plant efficiency at full load on gas is 15% better than when firing wood. The Station can also use fuel oil or any combination of wood, gas or oil for fuel.


Energy In; Energy Out

How much fuel does the McNeil Station use?
The amount of wood used depends on the operating conditions of the plant. To run McNeil at full load, approximately 76 tons of wood chips are consumed per hour. That amounts to about 30 cords per hour (there are about 2.5 tons of chips per cord of green wood). When the plant is operating at full load on gas, it uses 550,000 cubic feet of gas per hour.

How much electricity is produced?
At full load, the plant can generate 50 megawatts (MW) of electricity. This is enough power to run 500,000 100-watt light bulbs or nearly enough electricity for Burlington—Vermont's largest city. By comparison, the McNeil Station is only one-tenth the size of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, which generates 528 megawatts.

Will emissions from the Station pollute the atmosphere?
The McNeil Station 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.

Water and Ashes
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.


How many people work at the McNeil Station?
There are 40 people employed at the McNeil Generating Station. The demands of running the Station 24 hours a day are fully met by a maintenance crew, equipment operators, fuel handlers, foresters and administrative and engineering support personnel. A minimum staff of four is needed to operate the power-producing facility at any given time. A shift supervisor oversees the operation from the central control room; a roving station operator performs all local operating functions; an auxiliary operator is primarily responsible for ash handling, and yard workers take care of receiving, unloading, storing and reclaiming all wood fuel.

McNeil's Waste Wood Yard Hours of Operation

The Waste Wood Yard is just beyond the McNeil Generating Station on Intervale Road. The wood that is dropped off there is generated into electricity at the McNeil Generating Station. Yard waste (smaller than six cubic yards) is composted at the Green Mountain Compost facility in Williston. 
Winter hours (mid-November through mid-April) are:  Tuesday through Friday,  from 8 a.m. to noon, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sunday and Monday.

Summer hours (mid-April through mid-November) are:  Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Closed on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday.

The yard accepts clean waste wood at no charge, including wood that has never been painted, stained, treated or glued; brush, tree trimmings, trunks and limbs up to six feet long and two feet in diameter; stumps up to two feet in diameter that are free of dirt and stones.   Pressure-treated wood, plywood and particle board are not accepted, nor are cable spools unless completely disassembled and all hardware removed.  Nails, screws, and staples in wood are accepted, but not spikes, hinges, straps or heavy metal appendages of any sort.

There is no charge for dropping off material.

City of Burlington Energy Star