By JOHN P. GREGG, Valley News Staff Writer, Tuesday, September 24, 2019


HANOVER — Dartmouth College is reconsidering whether to rely on a proposed biomass plant to heat its campus after prominent alumni environmentalists said burning wood chips contributes to global warming.


“At this point, biomass is still on the table, but we are going through a process to kind of confirm if that makes sense,” Josh Keniston, the Dartmouth’s vice president for institutional projects, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.


Keniston oversees the so-called Dartmouth Green Energy Project, the college’s $200 million plan to switch from steam heat to a hot-water heating system and to replace its 121-year-old oil-burning power plant in downtown Hanover.


He said the college is looking at “non-combustion” energy sources as an alternative to the proposed biomass plant.


Keniston ruled out natural gas and nuclear power and said Dartmouth was assessing such energy sources as solar power, wind turbines, hydropower, and ground-source and air-source heat pumps.


“It’s essentially anything that doesn’t combust, that doesn’t have a fuel you are burning,” Keniston said. “So it’s a lot of electric-based technology.”


Dartmouth signaled it was re-assessing the biomass proposal in an announcement following the fall meeting of its Board of Trustees over the weekend in Hanover. The announcement expressed support for the green energy project, noting it is expected to improve heating efficiency by 20% in replacing steam pipes in more than 100 buildings across its campus.


But, notably, the announce did not mention biomass, instead saying, “The board will remain engaged as the administration team continues to analyze the project’s energy-generation source.”


Keniston, who helped brief trustees on Saturday, said, “Part of what we are looking at is the technology changes quickly, and we are evaluating if any of the recent changes in either the technology or understanding of how various technologies impact climate change, if any of those would suggest a different path.”


The shift also followed impassioned calls, letters and community forums about the biomass project, with some Dartmouth alumni and Upper Valley residents contending that rather than leading on renewable energy, the college would be adding to global warming if it burned wood chips and released that carbon from trees.


A group of prominent scientists and environmentalists also have said burning wood chips could “substantially” increase the college’s carbon emissions. Some others have backed the proposal, saying it will help provide a market for low-grade wood in New Hampshire forests and also benefit the local economy.


George Woodwell, a 1950 Dartmouth graduate who has helped lead the opposition to the biomass plant, organized a meeting with prominent scientists for Keniston and Rosi Kerr, Dartmouth’s director of sustainability, last month at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Woodwell founded the acclaimed environmental research institute on Cape Cod and was also a founding trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a founder of the Environmental Defense Fund.


Woodwell on Tuesday said he was “delighted” to learn that Dartmouth was considering other options to biomass.


“The college has a big challenge in that they have more than 100 buildings that they have to deal with. It’s entirely possible to have a program that phases out combustion and works in alternative sources — ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps and improved efficiency in the use of energy — in all phases, and the college ought to be doing that and should be a leader, in fact,” Woodwell said.


Dartmouth has identified three sites for a possible biomass plant: on a hill behind the Dewey parking lot; land by Hanover Country Club’s maintenance facility garage off Route 10; and the former home of Trumbull-Nelson Construction Co. on Route 120. Keniston said a decision on the designated site, which was planned for this month, has been pushed off as Dartmouth re-evaluates its energy source.


He also declined to say if Dartmouth, which owns large tracts of land in northern New Hampshire, might consider building solar arrays or wind turbines there.


“It’s too early for us to know,” Keniston said. “I think the work we are doing now is to see what the options would be.”

Woodwell said it was conceivable that Dartmouth could purchase an interest in a large wind-turbine project not on college land, and “own a piece of it.”


“The whole transition to renewables is a transition to electric power; there’s not much question,” Woodwell said. “It will come from a number of sources.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.

Here are some wood burning articles for reference:









Dartmouth folks were planning to implement an environmentally damaging tree burning heating system for its campus that would not have been sustainable for many, many years, because the combustion CO2 would be absorbed by biomass regrowth on the harvested area over a period of about 80 to 100 years, which starts AFTER THE C-NEUTRALITY PERIOD, which could last up to about 35 years in northern climates, such a northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire and all of Maine. See this URL



I have been advocating ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling and providing hot water to Dartmouth campus.


In New England, AIR source heat pumps are suitable only for highly insulated/highly sealed buildings, which would have low peak heating demands during the coldest days.


In New England, AIR source heat pumps are UNSUITABLE for ALL other buildings, i.e., about 98% of all buildings in New England, no matter what various non-technical, self-serving bureaucrats say. Do not listen to them, as you will regret it later.


Note for Lay People: At low air temperatures, the difference of the outdoor ambient air and refrigerant is very small, thus only little heat can be extracted from the air, i.e., heat pump output, Btu/h, decreases at exactly the same time the heating demand of poorly sealed and poorly insulated buildings, Btu/h, is increasing. Gee whiz, no wonder they do not work in energyhog buildings in cold climates.


However, some heat pump models do a little cheating. They have a built-in electric resistance heater that automatically increases the heat output at low temperatures. That creates the false impression to lay people the heat pump is “working” when it is cold.


NOTE: Air source heat pumps, much touted by Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire governments, etc., would be useless, if installed in average NE energyhog houses and uneconomical, as proven by the VT-DPS survey of about 85 ASHP installations:


- The much-touted phantasy savings ranged from $1200/y to $1800 per year, per ASHP. Many NE households were duped.

- The average of the actual savings was $200/y per ASHP

- Each ASHP costs about $4500 to install and last about 15 to 20 years. There would be no payback ever. See URLs.


The following articles will provide a good education regarding heat pumps









The only rational approach for Dartmouth is to:


1) Insulate and seal the existing and any new buildings as much as possible, so they will use the least Btu/sq ft/y for heating, cooling, hot water and electricity. The advantage is that the capacities of any heating and cooling systems would be minimal, and that any electricity purchased under power purchase agreements would be minimal.


2) Enter into power purchase agreements with owners of wind, solar and hydro systems equal to all electricity consumption of the Dartmouth campus. The electricity from these three sources has minimal CO2 emissions. So Dartmouth can brag about that, as do many other entities.


Those agreements would be paper contracts, not physical contracts, because, in reality, all electricity fed into the New England grid anywhere, instantaneously becomes part of the mix on the NE grid, so any electricity drawn from the NE grid is that mix.


Electricity travels on the grid as electro-magnetic waves at near the speed of light, i.e., from northern Maine to southern Florida in about 0.01 second. Any talk by lay people of there being a Vermont mix, or New Hampshire mix is a pure fantasy. See Appendix


The NE grid CO2 emissions were 322 g/kWh in 2016 and 309 g/kWh in 2017, as calculated by NE-ISO, the grid operator. Those values should be increased by about 7.5% to account for transmission and distribution losses from generator to user meter. Dartmouth can still brag about that, because it is much better than the US grid.


Highly Sealed, Highly Insulated Buildings and Heat Pumps is a Much Better Approach


A central plant, burning whatever, with hot water distribution system is ancient, 100-y-old technology.

Dartmouth would not lead, but be laughed at.


It would be much better for Dartmouth College to become really modern, i.e., use ground source heat pumps in highly sealed, highly insulated buildings to provide heating and cooling. They could have multiple holes up to 1000 ft deep, or have piping systems under parking lots, etc.

The students would actually learn from such a setup. 

After graduation, they would spread the news of modern heating and cooling systems they learned about at Dartmouth!!

The students would also learn, the forests, left undisturbed, and allowed to grow old, would maximize C storage. See Note


By clustering geothermal loops, an old-fashioned central plant would not be required.

One could still have a loop tying together the clusters.

The loop would accept any excess heat from any building and supply any heat to any building, and shave peak demands.

That entire system could be powered by local and remote wind and solar, bought under PPA agreements, and supported by sufficient capacity batteries.


NOTE: Old Growth Forests Store at Least 2 Times the Carbon of 60-y-old Forests



Old-growth forests store more carbon than younger forests, because they had more time to grow larger trees and develop a complex forest floor. They also have a great diversity and abundance of flora and fauna, unlike forests harvested “on a schedule as part of forest management”.


The following chart shows the carbon storage within the components of a young forest and ancient forest ecosystem. Forest floors in old-growth forests contain significantly more carbon than forest floors of harvested forests (Lecomte et al. 2006; Fredeen et al. 2005; Harmon et al. 1990).



Table 1/Carbon storage

60-y-old forest

Old-growth forest

metric ton C

metric ton C







Boles (wood and bark)



Roots (fine)



Woody debris and forest floor

10.9 - 26.1



203 - 218

555 -556


GSHP Systems at Progressive Universities: Here are some URLs of ongoing ground source heat pump projects at universities. No wood chips required.








NOTE: The present, 50-y-old steam distribution system is highly inefficient and should not be used as a rational basis for comparison with new hot water and $savings calculations and CO2 reductions, as Dartmouth did. The comparison basis should be modern vs. modern, not modern vs. decrepit.


GSHP Systems in Northern Europe


These articles have a ton of information for heating and cooling and hot water ALL SORTS of buildings using GSHP systems. Those GSHP systems were installed over a period of at least THIRTY YEARS.








Sweden: There are around two million single-family houses in Sweden, and approximately 20% - 25% of these houses are heated with GSHPs (2015 status). They work great no matter the outside temperature, because the ground temperature always is about 50F - 55F, when outside it is about 0F, or less.


The Netherlands: My cousin lives on the ninth floor of a modern, highly sealed, highly insulated, 12-story, condo building in Maassluis, the Netherlands. The building is part of a residential housing complex of 20 buildings entirely provided with heating, cooling and domestic hot water with GSHP systems already for more than 35 years.


The coils of some of the systems are under the parking lots, other systems have deep wells. After parking your car, click a fob and the lobby lights go on and the elevator door opens, get on the elevator and, without pressing any buttons, it takes you to the ninth floor (smart fob/smart elevator). Press another fob, the front door unlocks and pre-programmed lights turn on. That modernity was built-in 35 years ago!!


Per condo rules:

All appliances and lighting are required to be highly efficient.

Showers are required to be low-flow; faucets automatically turn off and on, as in an airport.


In the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, etc., near-zero energy buildings and GSHP systems are old hat, routine BAU.


“And so, it goes”, said Kurt Vonnegut, RIP.


NOTE: Dartmouth’s 2007 GSHP System for Fahey and McLane Residence Halls was a Preventable Failure


Dartmouth put in a GSHP system covering 100% of cooling demand, but only 25% of heating demand. This failure demonstrates a gross lack of engineering talent and experience.


Complete GSHP system design calculations for actual systems are available on the internet and “how-to” texts. They take into account the results of test wells to determine soil heat transfer characteristics, which determine the wells and depth and spacing to amply cover the winter heating demand of the buildings. 


The buildings should have been highly sealed and highly insulated to reduce winter heating demand, Btu/h, and that heating demand should have been calculated, using standard computer programs, and or tested, using standard methods, BEFORE drilling any wells.


Reducing the heating demand closer to the cooling demand reduces system capacity (less wells, etc.) and provides better utilization of equipment due to longer building time constants, i.e., increased building thermal inertia. 



Electricity Mix Based on Power Purchase Agreements: There are non-technical people talking about the “Vermont electricity mix” or the “New Hampshire electricity mix”. That mix exists only on paper, because it is based on power purchase agreements, PPAs, between utilities and owners of electricity generators. A utility may claim it is 100% renewable. This means the utility has PPAs with owners of renewable generators, i.e. wind, solar, biomass, hydro, etc. That mix has nothing to do with physical reality.


Electricity Mix Based on Physical Reality: Once electricity is fed into the NE electric grid by any generator, it travels:


- On un-insulated wires, as electromagnetic waves, EM, at somewhat less than the speed of light, i.e. from northern Maine to southern Florida, about 1800 miles in 0.01 of a second, per College Physics 101.

- On insulated wires, the speed decreases to as low as 2/3 the speed of light, depending on the application.


If those speeds were not that high, the NE electric grid would not work, and modern electronics would not work.


The electrons vibrate at 60 cycles per second, 60 Hz, and travel at less than 0.1 inch/second; the reason it takes so long to charge a battery.


It is unfortunate most high school teachers told students the electrons were traveling.

Teachers likely never told them about EM waves, or did not know it themselves.



This article explains in detail what happens when electricity is fed to the grid.




- If you live off the grid, have your own PV system, batteries, and generator for shortages and emergencies, then you can say I use my own electricity mix.

- If you draw electricity, via a utility meter from a distribution grid, such as of GMP, which is connected to the Vermont HV grid and the NE HV grid, you draw the NE mix.








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Comment by Penny Gray on September 25, 2019 at 7:05pm

Frankenstein was onto something.  We need to harness the energy from lightning bolts and store it in giant liquid batteries beneath the planet's surface.

Plant trees, not turbines.

Nuclear energy is the only solution we have so far.  Keep dreaming, Dartmouth.

Comment by Paul Ackerman on September 25, 2019 at 2:35pm

Good luck with all that hogwash. "Prominent scientists"..... who likely all fly in airplanes to meetings and conferences,have at least two homes,etc .

I could care less as long as NOT one cent of taxpayer subsidy is provided for this virtue signalling BS.

Dartmouth ,like Harvard,no doubt has a substantial endowment fund-- let them pay for 100% of this cockamamie plan and the continual upkeep required. They can add the "green fee" to their already preposterous tuition charges.

But wait! When Elizabeth Warren and Bernie make college "free" for everyone,won't they have to reduce the salaries to almost zero anyway? So why do they even need to consider this since they won't need most of the buildings by that point?


Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power


Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-power-bandwagon-hits-bumps-in-the-road-3/From Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/wind-swept-task-force-set-the-rules/From Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.” https://www.pinetreewatchdog.org/flaws-in-bill-like-skating-with-dull-skates/

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."


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