Salisbury biogas-to-energy plan scuttled

MIDDLEBURY — Integrated Energy Solutions (EIS) has pulled the plug on a project that would have extracted energy from cow manure and sent it through a pipeline from Salisbury to Middlebury College.
Dan Smith, president of EIS, confirmed the news during a recent phone interview. He declined to discuss specific reasons for scuttling the already permitted project, but indicated financing has been a major obstacle.
The plan called for installation of a bio-digester system on the Goodrich Farm off Shard Villa Road. The system would have extracted methane from manure sourced on-site and from other local farms. The methane would have been converted into a biogas that would have been funneled through a four-inch pipeline, then into the Vermont Gas System’s infrastructure, en route to its primary consumer — Middlebury College.
College officials had been counting on the EIS-produced biogas to replace approximately 640,000 gallons of number 6 fuel oil from its energy mix.
“The project kind of ran out of steam,” Smith said. “At this point, we have just moved on.”
He did not close the door to resurrecting the project if it receives a major financial boost in the future.
“Renewable energy ventures are risky,” Smith said. “This project was an attempt to be the first connect of a natural gas plant to a pipeline, basically in the country. You can pick your difficulty.”
College officials said they are disappointed to not have the EIS project as an option in the institution’s effort to maintain a carbon-neutral campus, according to Jack Byrne, director of sustainability integration at the college.
“We’re still hopeful that something will emerge from (EIS). We haven’t given up on it,” Byrne said.
The college has not yet identified other renewable energy projects that could replace the carbon-cutting benefit it would have derived through the Vermont-generated methane scheme. But the EIS contribution is perhaps less of a blow to the college now in light of its announcement in December that it had achieved its goal of carbon neutrality.
To that end, Middlebury College in 2008 unveiled its new biomass plant that cut its number 6 oil consumption from 2 million gallons to 600,000 gallons per year. The institution is also a partner in three solar farms and has completed 87 projects with Efficiency Vermont to make its buildings more weather-tight.
Officials believe college clinched its carbon neutrality objective with the board of trustees’ recent decision to perpetually conserve 2,100 acres of forestland on the Bread Loaf Mountain campus in Ripton.
Byrne said the college hired a company last fall to quantify the amount of carbon the Bread Load forest is sequestering. A second, independent group will do its own survey of the Ripton forest later this spring.
“The two teams will compare results and come to an agreement about what we could apply for on carbon credits,” Byrne said. “That application (for credits) will be made this summer. The first issuance of credits will be for 2016. We’re … confident we will have more than enough credits to achieve our 2016 goal. But we won’t know the final number until later this year.”
That doesn’t mean the college is resting on its green laurels.
“We’re at a point of saying, ‘OK, we’ve achieved this version of carbon neutrality, what does the next one look like?” Byrne said.
Specifically, college officials want to offset the carbon impacts of their travel. College officials log many work-related miles on planes, trains, buses and cars.
“We are doing some exploration around putting some kind of a price on carbon travel and internalizing it, using that as a way to in effect get people thinking more consciously about how they travel from a carbon perspective,” Byrne said.
Middlebury College’s Environmental Council is also working on a pilot project on travel-related carbon offsets. Plans call for a couple of college departments to participate over several months to see if it deserves formal adoption. In essence, participants would calculate how much carbon their trip would generate and make a related contribution to a fund that would further the college’s carbon-offset goals.
Byrne also said Yale University and Swarthmore College have designed impressive programs for travel-related carbon offsets.
The Yale Community Carbon Fund has created an online calculator (at yccf.sustainability.yale.edu) for employees to arrive at a carbon-offset figure by plugging in their anticipated trip mileage and manner of travel. The person then makes a corresponding financial contribution to one of three area nonprofits focusing on weatherization and renewable energy.
As for EIS, it is developing other energy projects outside of Addison County, according to Smith. As with the Salisbury plan, he knows there are no guarantees.
“It happens all the time in these kind of ventures,” Smith said. “You win some, you lose some.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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