GMC to celebrate new biomass plant
By Gordon Dritschilo
STAFF WRITER | April 14,2010
Albert J. Marro / Rutland Herald
A bicyclist rides past a building housing a biomass plant under construction on the campus of Green Mountain College in Poultney. The college will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility on Earth Day, April 22.
POULTNEY — As a college freshman, Brett Duggan set out to get his school to put its money where its mouth was.
As an alumnus approaching his one-year reunion, 22-year-old Duggan will return to Green Mountain College next week to see the end of what he and nine other students started.
The environmental liberal arts college will cut the ribbon at its new biomass plant on April 22 — Earth Day. The $5.8 million facility will produce 20 percent of the school's electricity but 85 percent of its heat, with 4,400 tons of wood chips displacing 200,000 gallons of heating oil.
Provost Bill Throop said Tuesday the turbine would not be assembled until late summer but the heating function was up and running. Once it is entirely functional, he said, it will amount to a 50 percent reduction in the school's carbon emissions.
"It's a huge movement forward for a college that's trying to educate about sustainability across the curriculum," Throop said.
With other changes, such as window replacement, a new transportation policy and the purchase of some offsets, Throop said the college expects to achieve "carbon neutrality" by next year.
Throop said much or the credit has to go to the school's students. Duggan, who graduated in 2009 and works as an air pollution control officer at Electric Boat Corp. in Connecticut, said the project was conceived in a first-year seminar in the fall of 2005.
"We studied the energy crisis, peak oil and renewable energy," he said. "It was during the seminar we determined you couldn't have a school about sustainability and environmental protection and be burning number six oil."
Duggan said about 10 students from the seminar formed a club the following semester dedicated to getting the school to replace its oil boiler with a biomass one. Duggan was the first treasurer and took over as the group's leader when the founding president graduated in 2007.
"Many students were involved on campus," he said. "My role was mostly to be the hired gun who went and talked to the administration."
His fellow students, Duggan said, uniformly supported the idea.
"The administration was amenable," he said. "The concern they had was the financial burden on the school. … That was the only pushback we got."
Duggan said GMC has a campus fund designed to encourage student-led sustainability projects, and the club used it to pay for an engineering study on the idea. He said the study swept aside the last resistance.
Similar facilities exist at Bennington and Middlebury colleges. Throop said Green Mountain has used the facility as the focus of study for nine different classes this year, including economics and art classes.
Gov. James Douglas is expected to cut the ribbon at the plant at 10:30 a.m.
The college's Earth Day festivities also include a talk by retired astronaut Alan Bean. As a member of Apollo 12, Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon. Since then, he has become a painter. Bean will give a talk titled "Reaching for Your Own Special Star" at 1 p.m. in the Clara Hitchcock Fitzpatrick Jones Concert Hall.