New boiler plant increases efficiency, safety for hospital

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BENNINGTON — A $3.75 million project to replace and revitalize a central boiler plant at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is completed and successfully in use after an approximately year-long construction process.

This project comes out of a multi-year planning process to replace three aging, oil-fired burners with energy-efficient models that burn on natural gas with the option of biomass conversion.

Prior to this upgrade, the hospital's central utility plant used three oil-fired boilers that provided hot water and steam to heat buildings and sterilize medical equipment. These boilers had a 20-year lifespan but were all over 30 years old, according to the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB). The oldest boiler dated back to 1968, said Ashley Jowett, SVMC's communications and marketing specialist.

Additionally, the No. 6 fuel oil burned at the old plant was considered to be "outdated and increasingly difficult to obtain," said GMCB members when planning the new plant.

"We were buying about 450,000 gallons of No.6 fuel [per year] when we started," said William Hall, Southwestern Vermont Health Care's director of engineering. "We are on track to save half a million this year [because of the new plant]."

Hall said that by saving on operating costs, the hospital can invest in even better healthcare for its patients.

Last month, Hall accepted Efficiency Vermont's Energy Leadership Award on behalf of the hospital due to the capital and organizational improvements the new plant has allowed.

Jowett said the project was chosen as a priority since steam is "very critical" in a hospital setting for uses like heat, hot water, sterilization, humidification, and cooking. Also, she says the old system's location in the middle of the hospital was dangerous.

"A malfunction would have hindered the ability to provide care to patients," she said. "The new plant is away from the hospital building, which reduces the risk of a safety event."

During this project, the new boilers and related infrastructure were relocated to a 3,610-square-foot prefabricated metal building located on the north end of the SVMC campus. This new location is also close to an existing maintenance building and approximately 200 yards from patient care buildings.

Three new, efficient models that burn compressed natural gas — or No. 2 oil as a backup — replaced the old boilers. Two of the units are each 400 horsepower, and one is a 500 horsepower Messer-Smith "convertible" boiler, which can be modified to burn biomass if natural gas and oil becomes too expensive in the future, says Jowett. Any one of these units is powerful enough to power the entire hospital on its own if another boiler fails.

In addition to replacing the old boilers, two 20,000-gallon underground fuel tanks were replaced with a compressed natural gas decompression station, a 20,000-gallon above-ground number 2 fuel oil storage tank, and approximately 200 yards of steam pipes. All of the equipment is managed by Preferred Technology computer systems and can be controlled either at the plant or offsite.

Trane Corporation managed the project to completion along with other subcontractors. Hall says the project is being paid for on the hospital's operational budget as a capital project since it is expected to save SVMC money in the long run.

Not only is the new plant safer, it will reduce SVMC's carbon emissions and potentially save $500,000 each year due to being designed to operate as efficiently as possible. So far, the work is estimated to have saved SVMC $115,000 in the past year.

"It's quite a step forward being more modern," said Randall Bates, a level one maintenance technician who oversees operations at the new plant. "It's a lot better for the environment and has great savings on energy."

Bates was also a technician for the old boiler plant, which has since been decommissioned and is in the process of being taken apart. He described how the No. 6 fuel was not only hard to find, but it had to be heated multiple times to use and contained quite a bit of sulfur.

"It was a waste of energy," he said.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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