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National Life Launches $2 Million Biomass Project

National Life Group has unveiled a biomass energy project that will meet 90 percent of the heating needs of its Montpelier, Vermont campus while reducing the company’s annual carbon footprint by 45 percent.

The $2 million project, scheduled to be completed in late summer, is expected to cut National Life’s annual usage of heating oil from 210,000 gallons to about 30,000 gallons. The company’s $500,000 annual heating bill will be cut roughly in half.

National Life’s new heating system will use two biomass boilers to burn woodchips from local renewable sources as fuel. A bin to hold the woodchips will be built below ground near the building’s entrance. The biomass energy system is expected to be fully functional by the end of the summer.

The Montpelier-based Biomass Energy Resource Center, BERC, worked with National Life in the development of the biomass system. Currently there are more than 70 wood-burning biomass heating and cooling systems in use throughout Vermont, primarily in schools. National Life will be one of only a few commercial office buildings to use such a system.

Woodchip biomass systems are carbon neutral and have lower sulfur dioxide and net greenhouse gas emissions than both oil and propane, according to BERC. In addition, an electrostatic precipitator and exhaust filtration system will remove on average 98 percent of any particles from the emissions. However, because the woodchips are green and nearly half water, occasional steam plumes may be released through the building’s emissions stack.

According to Tim Shea, who spearheaded the project for National Life, “What is remarkable to me is that we’ll be heating approximately 500,000 square feet of building with the biomass system this winter and the emissions will only be that of about 12 woodstoves.” Shea said the new biomass system will cost approximately $2 million and will pay for itself in savings within five to six years.

Other energy efficiency projects on National Life’s campus include a 73kW solar photovoltaic system to help power the campus, a solar thermal system, water-saving fixtures in the restrooms, energy-saving light ballasts and bulbs, and more efficient air conditioners in the data center.

Two school districts in New Hampshire recently announced Biomass plans.

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