Full Steam Ahead

NEWPORT CITY – The planning commission continues to support a central heating plant that would distribute heat via underground pipes to commercial, public and residential buildings. Local woodchips would power the plant.Jay Ancel, from Black River Design, said his firm worked on this with engineers from New York City relative to other projects in Vermont. Ancel got the idea to bring the engineers to Newport after they talked about their work in designing the heating and cooling system for the new World Trade Center. The engineers’ idea for the World Trade Center entails getting water from the Hudson River, Ancel said.The planning commission first discussed the idea about 18 months ago. The engineers are interested in returning to Newport and working with zoning administrator Paul Dreher on the project. The work would entail studying maps, demand on the system, what buildings might be connected, and what kind of heating systems those buildings have now. A central heating system can lower heating costs and can be an incentive to attract new businesses. “The bigger the better,” Ancel said of the size of the system. “The more users you get, the larger the boilers you can plug in.”Ancel’s prime interest is to have a central heating system downtown, but it could be located near an industrial park or hospital. Having the system downtown can be complicated, Ancel said.“You have all your rights-of-ways, multiple owners and would probably get into Act 250,” said Ancel.  At one point, a district heat system was supposed to be a priority, but fell to the wayside, zoning member Clark Curtis said.It’s a priority again, said Dreher. He said outside investors may contribute to the feasibility study, but he would like the city to find some money as well. “We might want to ask the council directly for money or we might want to tell the council we will be looking for other funding sources like grant monies,” said Dreher.Zoning board members suggested the major potential users might want to contribute to the feasibility study. Investors could own the plant with regulation from the public service board. The system could provide domestic hot water and a cooling system. The system, at least at first, probably would service large industrial buildings. The closer the user is to the plant, the better it works.Curtis suggested Dreher tell the city council that the zoning board wants district heat to be part of the town plan.A central heating system is nothing new to Newport. Years ago, a similar system heated the Governor Prouty Mansion.