City officials acknowledge the district heat system has been a “mixed bag” since it went online in 2014, thanks to lower-than-projected oil prices, but the customers that use it say they are happy with the service.
The city partnered with the state on a biomass-fueled heating plant which was built behind the Department of Motor Vehicles on State Street. The city then built a system of underground pipes that connect to the plant and feed several downtown buildings, including City Hall, Union Elementary School, the fire and police departments, several churches and a number of private buildings. The intent of the project was to help move the city in a more environmentally friendly direction because burning wood chips is better for the environment than burning oil.
Officials had hoped the project would also bring cost savings for those that use it because heating oil has been more expensive than wood chips.
Jessie Lynn is the co-director of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, which is one of the city’s district heat customers.
“Overall, the project has sort of done what we expected it to do,” Lynn said.
Lynn said there haven’t been any issues with getting heat from the system. But Lynn and other customers have noted the costs are not where they thought they would be. She said when the project was advertised, the cost for fuel oil was projected to go up by as much as $4 per gallon. The price of a gallon of heating oil in Vermont right now is about $2.40, which is about 40 cents lower than six years ago.
Gary Rodgers is chairman of the Property Board at Bethany Church. Rodgers said the church was spending about $25,000 per year on heating oil and was projected to spend only $16,000 to $17,000 using the state’s plant. Last year, he said the church paid about $22,500 for district heat and would have paid about $17,000 if it had used heating oil at these low prices.