Capital’s heat project is a hit on West Coast
By Amy Ash Nixon
Staff Writer | July 26,2014
MONTPELIER — With the downtown district heat project poised to be fully online Oct. 1, the city has already been asked to share its expertise at a national energy conference and in another cold-weather capital: Juneau, Alaska.
The project involves distributing heat from a state-owned biomass plant to public and private buildings through a system of city-owned lines.
Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker said she was invited to represent Montpelier in early June as a speaker at the International District Energy Association meeting in Seattle. Through that speaking engagement, officials invited Baker to Juneau soon after to discuss Montpelier’s experience. She was there from June 11 to 13.
“It was very interesting,” Baker said of her visit to Juneau. “They have an interested group of stakeholders in that area that are looking to build a district energy system there. They have a cold environment like Vermont, but it’s different.”
Residents and businesses in Juneau have to fly or ship in all their oil on freighters, which is very expensive, she said. Alaska is rich in forest resources that would be useful for a district heat system, Baker said. “There is a lot of wood there. They are surrounded by biomass.”
The Alaska trip was funded by the U.S. Forest Service and the Juneau Economic Development Council, she said.
“For me, this trip was not only a great opportunity to share with others our success in Montpelier, but also the opportunity to talk with leadership from another capital city to share ideas and promising practices,” she said.
Baker said the energy association meeting in Seattle focused on efficient management of district systems and how they can spur community development.
She attended sessions on district energy system business development, energy planning, public-private partnerships in the sector and urban development. The conference was paid for by the association, and the city’s district heat fund covered her travel expenses for the Seattle trip, she said.
“The information I gained through these sessions is directly applicable to our day-to-day work as we start the commercial operation of District Heat Montpelier in October,” said Baker. “Additionally, it was a great opportunity to speak with other municipal, governmental and private sector colleagues in the field.”
Baker presented a session titled “Making it Work: Implementation and Real World Experience,” sharing the story of how Montpelier started its system.
The executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, Brian Holst, said in a recent letter to Montpelier City Manager William Fraser: “Ms. Baker’s experience and testimony was extremely valuable. Her remarks were instructive and helped set the tone for the rest of the discussion” in meetings on district heat around her visit.
In Montpelier, the state will start providing heat to the distribution system Oct. 1, Baker said.
Last winter, six customers utilized the system from the City Hall boilers. In the coming weeks, the city will ready the remaining buildings to come online. It will serve 15 customers — 21 buildings in all — said Baker, explaining that, for example, City Hall and the Montpelier Fire Department count as one customer, but two buildings.
She added the City Council expects to set rates for the 2014-15 heating season at its meeting Wednesday, and that they are on track with earlier estimates.