College to build new power plant

by Savannah Eller | 1/25/19 3:05am

The College released a plan this week to build a new campus heating facility by 2025, marking one of the first steps toward achieving the sustainability goals laid out in College President Phil Hanlon’s 2017 pledge.

The new $200-million facility will burn wood biomass as a fuel source, replacing the No. 6 fuel oil — a thick, viscous oil — that has heated the campus since 1958. According to environmental studies professor Andrew Friedland, who also co-chaired the Sustainability Task Force that published the plan, biomass heating will allow the College to transition away from the refined coal oil that is responsible for much of the campus carbon footprint. 

“It’s the dirtiest of all the fossil fuels,” Friedland said.

Biomass for the new plant will be waste-wood sourced from the timber industry. When the plant becomes operational, Friedland said the College will be able to meet and exceed Hanlon’s 2017 pledge to decrease Dartmouth’s carbon emissions by 50 percent. 

The plan also calls for the replacement of steam pipes running to and in buildings across campus, according to executive vice president Rick Mills, who added that the College will instead conduct heat from the plant to individual buildings using hot water pipes. Mills said the transition to hot water alone will increase heating efficiency on campus by 20 percent and allow for a smoother integration of other heating mechanisms as renewable energy technology advances in coming years.   “Over the longer term, I think the switch from steam to hot water is the bigger news because of what it will allow us to do down the road,” he said.

To finance the project, the College plans to enter a partnership with a private company that will build and maintain the plant at its own expense. Dartmouth will then pay utility bills to the company, according to Mills.  

Following this week’s announcement, the College will now begin receiving bids for the project and plans to announce a partner in summer 2020. The location of the new plant will be decided during the bidding process, Mills said. 

The plan for the biomass heating facility was created by the Sustainability Task Force — a coalition of students, faculty and staff who met over the course of a year from April 2016 to April 2017 to analyze ways the College might become more sustainable, according to sustainability office assistant director Jenna Musco. Musco said that updating the campus’s heating was a top priority for the task force. 

“The fuel type itself has been long outdated,” she said. “Few institutions are burning No. 6 like Dartmouth has been.”

While many other institutions have begun heating buildings with natural gas, Dartmouth was too far away from a pipeline to consider that as a viable option, according to Musco. The College also had to find a fuel source that could be stored on-site in case of grid shutdowns, she said. 

The new plant’s proximity to the town of Hanover has led town leaders to also consider how Dartmouth might resolve heating sustainability problems on campus. 

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said she is happy the College is making strides to reduce its carbon emissions. Griffin said the town will be cooperating with the College once officials decide where the plant will be constructed.

“They’re doing their own very thorough due diligence in terms of where would make the most sense for the College,” she said. 

Mills said he is excited about the project’s potential. 

“It’s not often that you get to do something important [and] necessary and [something] that really advances a sustainability goal,” he said. “It feels good.”