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District Heat Project Moving to Next Phase

by Bob Nuner
Assistant city manager Jessie Baker says Montpelier’s district heat project is, for now, sold out of energy capacity. The project contracted with the state for a fixed supply of heat back in 2012. The project temporarily supplied City Hall, Union Elementary School, Fairpoint Communications, Union Mutual Mutual of Vermont, and the police and fire stations with heat from City Hall’s boilers last heating season, and the project is now heading for its next stage.
For those customers, testing occurred when they finally obtained heat this last spring from the heat plant as the new system fired up. “That was a really useful process to go through. We could experience bringing on customers,” Baker says, “More or less, it worked … There were no leaks, no failures.” Last winter’s occasional load sharing, on cold days, between the customers’ own systems and the city boilers was unsurprising, given that the latter were heating six buildings. Peak demand has not yet been tested for any customers, but what was seasonally possible has been commissioned. Baker was glad for the opportunity to test the system and practice bringing on customers.
The balance of customers are completing connections this summer, at which time the system will serve 15 customers and 20 buildings. The new arrivals will include the Federal Building (General Services Administration), Christ Church, Julio’s, Everett Insurance, Capital Grounds (Everett Insurance), Washington County Courthouse and the sheriff’s offices, 15 and 17 State Street (River Street Associates), City Center, 118 Main St. (NECI/N&M Real Estate), Bethany Church, 15 East State Street (the Beard Building), and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Training will take place in September. Consultants from Ever-Green Energy, an affiliate of St. Paul, Minnesota’s 40-year-old district heat system, will advise customers on how to get the most out of their heat exchangers, what to watch for and what to do if there’s trouble.
New hookup inquiries continue, and Baker says that Montpelier can consider new customers, but system operators first want a couple of heating systems to understand baseline operation. The city’s contract with the state allows the eventual purchase of more energy. New building hookups will be easier than those in existing structures, Baker notes. She mentions for example the proximity of the planned 1 Taylor Street development to the plant as an attractive possibility.
The city has a 20-year contract with the state for the purchase of energy. Similar time frames apply to the city’s customer agreements. The rate for the next heating season will be set by City Council July 30. Customers can expect two charges: a capacity charge for the connection itself and an energy charge, reflecting actual energy use. The annual rate-setting process is detailed in the contract with building owners. A sample contract is on the city’s website by this path: Departments & Services > Planning & Community Development > Current Projects > District Energy Project > Information for Customers > Model Customer Agreement.