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Berlin City Manager Hopes To Harness Steam From Biomass Plant To Melt Sidewalk Snow

Sarah Gibson for NHPR

On cold days, Berlin City manager Jim Wheeler can stand on the steps of city hall and see plumes of steam billowing from the wood chip burning plant Burgess BioPower.

The plant sits on the former site of the city’s pulp mill factory on the Androscoggin River.

“One of the things about biomass plants is that they make a lot of steam, and that's energy that goes to the sky,” Wheeler says.

Now, Wheeler wants to harness the heat that makes this steam for a snowmelt system.

The system, modeled after one in Holland, Michigan, would use heat from the plant to warm up water, which would then circulate through a system of tubing laid underneath the city's sidewalks.

“It's not something you hear of every day, but it has been done,” Wheeler says. “Private entities do it on sidewalks and walkways, and it's popular on college campuses because of the amount of pedestrians.”

It would cost $12 million to build the system. The city is currently applying for federal funds to cover this. Wheeler says if built, the system's annual operating costs would be around $75,000.

Wheeler says the major benefit is monetary - with no more snow to shovel and plough downtown, the cash-strapped city could save $150,000 in annual snow removal costs. And he hopes the absence of snow would also invite more winter visitors and boost downtown businesses.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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