Environment New Hampshire
The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Turning up the Heat

Crotched Mountain uses RGGI program to achieve many kinds of green
Ashley Saari

GREENFIELD — As a carbon-cutting effort faces a repeal hearing in the state Legislature today, a local nonprofit is profiting from the work that it has done.

Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center received a grant from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, for $176,531 to finish overhauling heating and cooling system from multiple steam boilers to a streamlined biomass facility that runs on woodchips, and produces much cleaner energy.

According to Jessica O’Hare, a program associate with Environment New Hampshire, RGGI is a regulatory program in ten northeastern states aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by putting a cap on the amount of carbons that are allowed to be expelled. Power plants are required to buy allowances sold yearly in regional auctions for each ton of carbon dioxide, or CO2, they emit.

Critics of the program say that most of the cost of the initiative will be shouldered by utility companies, and passed along to taxpayers, and that large conglomerates should bear the cost of their own efficiency upgrades.

O’Hare disagreed, saying that the program takes a longer look at economics. She said that when people, including large corporations, have more money in their pockets from energy savings, it will stimulate the economy overall, while still promoting clean energy. “It gives an incentive to buy into clean energy,” said O’Hare. “Municipalities and businesses can get grants to retrofit their building to use cleaner energy methods.”

One such grant was awarded to Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in 2009. Michael Redmond, chief operating officer at Crotched Mountain, said in an interview on Thursday that the rehabilitation center started the work to reduce it’s greenhouse emissions on its own, with an overhaul of the heating and cooling of their residential homes and school for adolescents and young adults with disabilities.

“Crotched has been around for 60 years and we needed to invest in our campus,” said Redmond. He explained that the heating system had needed an overhaul, and one of the large steam boilers was failing. “We had a choice to maintain our system or think about a different way of distributing heat and hot water.”

The center began its transition into distributing heat from one facility several years ago. After looking at several different fuel sources to power their new plant, the rehabilitation center ultimately chose wood chips.

Crotched Mountain had several reasons for choosing wood chips, according to Redmond. Wood chips come from a renewable sustainable resource base, which is available in great quantity in New Hampshire. Another benefit is that because wood chips are attainable in New Hampshire, the revenue generated by purchasing them stimulates the local economy.

“We’ve been buying wood chips from a local forester,” said Redmond. “So that money we’re spending is going right back into the New Hampshire economy.”

Also, through their supplier, D.H. Hardwick of Francestown, Crotched Mountain was able to sign a contract for five years of sustained pricing. “At a time when oil is only going up, that’s a huge advantage,” said Redmond.

According to Redmond, in 2011, Crotched Mountain used 3,084 tons of woodchips, priced at $46 a ton. Doing so saved 200,000 gallons of fuel and just under $500,000 in fuel expenses in 2011 alone.

Redmond said that the renovations were well worth it, saving the center 1.7 million dollars over four years. “That’s money we can put right back into our program, helping people that need it the most,” he said. “This has been dramatic for us just from a business standpoint, never mind the ecological benefits.”

However, the center didn’t have enough money to fully complete the project. With help from a RGGI grant matching $175,000 that the center raised, they were able to connect their last remaining residential and office building to their biomass facility which came online at the end of 2007.

With the final piece of the puzzle in place, the greenhouse gas emissions for the plant generating the heat, cooling, and hot water for their residential areas and school has brought the center’s annual reporting in tons of pollutants down to nearly nothing, according to John Parisi, the Director of Building Services at Crotched.

“There’s so little going into the atmosphere from our chimney, it’s almost just steam,” said Parisi. “We’ve eliminated 40 tons of Nitrous Oxide a year from entering the atmosphere.”

Redmond said he did not agree with the attempts to repeal the RGGI. “We can put our total savings back into our programs, we’re stimulating the New Hampshire economy, reducing emissions, and using sustainable fuel,” he said. “The RGGI grant allowed us to do those things.”

O’Hare said that if the RGGI were to be repealed, it would give businesses “a free ticket to pollute.”