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Planning Board green lights hospital wood-burning plant

August 18, 2010
LANCASTER — Weeks Medical Center's proposal to build a 6,400 square-foot wood-fired heating plant on 18-plus acres off Middle Street next to the hospital won unanimous approval on Wednesday night from the Planning Board. As usual, chairman Steven Young did not vote.

The $2.4 million project is designed to supply both heat and hot water to the hospital complex, located in a commercial zoning district, explained medical center CEO Scott Howe.

Earlier in the day at meeting in Campton, Governor and Council approved a measure stating that it would provide a public benefit for the Business Finance Authority to issue a $10 million bond to finance the project, also allowing the hospital to repay $7.6 million on existing bonds, saving close to three percent in interest costs.

The plant will be located close to the hospital building, so that only short insulated hot water lines will have to be installed.

An earlier site plan had showed the heating plant located further from the hospital, but it turned out that that location would have cost and additional $1 million, Mr. Howe said in reply to a question posed by abutter David Bennett.

One or two tractor-trailers of wood chips a week will be driven to the storage pit via Brickyard Road, which is already used for large truck deliveries, Mr. Howe explained. Oil delivery trucks now ply the road twice a month on average. The chip storage pit will be large enough to hold four trailer loads of chips.

The two-story plant will house two Messersmith boilers manufactured in Bark River, Mich.: a larger one for winter use, and a smaller one for summer use when only hot water is required.

The hospital's existing oil-fired boilers will stay in place as a backup heating system.

The plant's 60- to 65-foot stack will be equipped with an electrostatic precipitator that will capture particulates in the high 90 percent range, along with nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulpher dioxide (SO2), explained WMC Maintenance-Plant Operation Manager Dennis Bacon. Emissions will be at a lower level than now produced by the existing oil-fired boilers, he said.

No smoke will come out of the stack, although steam will be visible in cold weather.

The stack will be located at the lower end of the building, Mr. Howe said, making its height approximately the same as that of the hospital building.

The project will not go forward until the Air Resources Division of the state Department Environmental Services (NHDES) issues a permit, Mr. Bacon said. NHDES will use air quality modeling to make its assessment of the proposed plant's impact, using weather and wind direction data, collected at the Mount Washington Regional Airport in Whitefield to simulate the flow of air pollution in the atmosphere and to predict any associated health and environmental impacts.

Abutter Cindy Watson asked if the new plant's presence would lower the property value of the home that she and her husband own. None of three hospital employees on hand — CEO Howe, Mr. Bacon, and Buildings and Ground head John MacKillop — claimed expertise as property assessors, but indicated that they believe that the plant would not have significant impact on neighboring properties.

WMC recently purchased a house at 159 Middle Street and intends to keep it in place to help shield the new heating plant. Mr. Howe declined to reveal the exact purchase price but said that it cost less than $250,000. The house will be rented to tenants in the short term, but at a future date will be converted into a facility in which on-call hospital employees could stay close to the hospital but outside the medical center itself.

Only a few existing trees will be cut down to make way for new construction, Mr. Howe said.

A similar plant is used to heat a school in Danville, Vt.

The Planning Board's unanimous vote of approval is contingent on the project receiving an state Air Quality permit, based on federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, and complying with all local and state permits, including a change-of-use NHDOT driveway permit to ensure that the turning radius is large enough to accommodate trucks loaded with wood-chips.

The Board also voted unanimous approval of WMC's request for a voluntary merger of two lots, since the heating plant would otherwise straddle a property line.

Mr. Howe said that at current prices, the wood-fired plant would save $100,000 a year. Should the price of oil spike higher, the yearly savings could rise as high as $200,000 or $300,000.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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