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Filling the Void Left by Vermont Yankee

A recent program on Vt. Public Radio reported that energy leaders from across the state met in Vernon Sept 12th to help the town plan for life after Vermont Yankee.

Entergy closed VY in December, 2014, leaving behind an enormous switchyard that can handle hundreds of megawatts of electricity from a power plant.

The town wants to replace VY's tax base — and lost jobs — and with those high voltage transmission lines, Vernon is looking for an energy project that could make use of the electrical infrastructure.


Kerrick Johnson, VELCO's vice president of external affairs, said two large hydro projects have already been
lined up to use a portion of the switchyard, but added that it would be possible to add an additional energy project.

"As of right now, the smart people who work for us, they say there still will be capacity going forward," Johnson said. "There is an open position. There's an empty socket that you can plug something in." So Vernon is trying to figure out what to plug into that socket.

To date, at least 2 proposals have been publicly offered. The first was for a wood-fired biomass facility. The second was for a natural gas operation to be fed from a pipeline in Massachusetts.

The biomass plant was proposed by G. Donald Campbell Jr., a Winhall man who is president of American Generation Partners LLC.

He has extensive experience in the finance sector and has worked on large-scale utility projects.

Campbell's plan was for a power plant that, with "advanced environmental control technologies," would utilize "woody and agricultural biomass and certain municipal solid waste as primary fuels." He also mentioned potential for "hybrid technology that would also permit use of biomass opportunity fuels, while also having the ability to utilize natural gas-fired combustion turbines in a common facility."

That proposal has apparently foundered.

The natural gas proposal was intended to be fueled via a short pipeline spur connecting to energy giant
Kinder Morgan’s 200 mile Northeast Energy Direct project at a point near Greenfield, MA.  However, Kinder has pulled the plug after failing to sign up enough utility customers and facing stiff consumer and political opposition. It can be considered dead, at least for now.

I offered an alternative suggestion (not an actual proposal) that they consider one or more internet data centers. Rather than generating power, a load center would utilize power available at the site. Date centers are huge power hogs, using as much as a medium size town. However, due to their enormous energy use, they are in a position to
dictate how much they’re willing to pay. It was felt that the New England power market was too high-priced for their tastes.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, at least as far as I know, is the alternative biomass technology called gasification which employs a process called “pyrolysis” which has been used since ancient times for turning wood into charcoal on an industrial scale.

Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures in the absence of

In gasification, the wood is pyrolized or “distilled” and the gaseous components of the wood are collected
and used as fuel in specially designed diesel engines similar to the engines that propel ocean-going ships. The process leaves a solid residue rich in carbon content called “char” which has commercial value as a soil enhancer and also as a fuel (think barbecues).

The gases can be “scrubbed to remove undesirable “tars” which, too, can have commercial value

General Electric’s Jenbacher Division, among others, makes these special diesels in sizes up to 10MWe. Thus,
multiple engine-generators would need to be employed in order to make any kind of impact on the grid.

One proposal would have a generation building containing, say, a dozen engine-generators situated conveniently near the switchyard for direct connection to the grid at that point.

Gasification could be at a different location, such as northward on 142 (near Cersosimo’s mulch facility) with a short pipeline running to the generators. Wood handling could be located further north.

(This obviously encroaches on the Cersosimo enterprises on 142. Since they probably know more about wood than anybody else in the state, it would be very beneficial if they were to be heavily involved.)

This whole proposal has been shortened and simplified in order to get the ideas out. It needs  a lot of enhancement in order to make it viable.


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I missed a key point

The basic advantage of biomass processes over fossil fuels is that trees growing in replanted forests reabsorb the carbon dioxide emitted when woody biomass burns as fuel. While fossil fuels cause a one-way flow of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when they burn, forests that are harvested and regrown represent a two-way flow, into and back out of the atmosphere.

Optimally, the wood for gasification comes only from forest residues, forest thinnings, wood bits left after manufacturing such things as hardwood flooring or fast-growing plantation trees like willow. That’s because, from a greenhouse emissions perspective, it makes no sense to produce biofuels using trees that can be made into long-lived building materials and furniture, or used to take the place of energy-intensive metals such as steel or aluminum.

Gasification provides the added advantage of using woody debris not only as a component of fuel but to produce the energy needed for the gasification process. Additionally, char and tar by-products are marketable.


Vernon, VT - an Energy Town

It's interesting that most of the suggested new industries for Vernon, VT are energy-related. I guess it makes sense. There is a dam there. There is a nuke. And they're used to having one big company sited there to finance their (minimal) town operations. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine any industrial outfit saying to itself, "hey, let's start up in Vernon," because for starters, they would never have heard of it.

I would need to know more about the biomass industry to decide if I like that idea, but I'm glad the gas facility / pipeline is diminishing as an option. Surely we can do better for our area and our environment than that.


Any ideas?

It's interesting that most of the suggested new industries for Vernon, VT are energy-related.

That makes sense only because of the energy node located there that permits easy access to the grid.
I can't think of anything else that would work.


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