Not Zero Fest Press Release


September 22, 2023

Contact: Lena Greenberg (they/them) 

646 620 5344

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Not Zero Fest: Burlington Electric Department’s flawed “District Heat” proposal put on blast

BURLINGTON, VT - Ratepayers and residents disrupted Burlington Electric Department’s (BED) Net Zero Fest yesterday with a puppet representing the proposed “District Heat” steam pipe. Participants held banners reading “No McNeil Expansion” and “McNeil Power Plant: Dirtier Than Coal,” while handing out flyers to Net Zero Fest attendees. The festival was poorly attended and disruptors matched or outnumbered guests.

The “District Heat” project is a decades-old proposal to run a steam pipe from the McNeil Generating Station to the UVM Medical Center to serve as a heat source. McNeil does not generate enough waste heat to power the hospital, so this would mean more burned trees, more air pollution, and more carbon emissions. 

“Would you use a floppy disk to store data in 2023? Nope. McNeil and the ‘district heat’ plan are the floppy disks of energy generation. Why recommit to outdated technology when we could invest in real renewables?” said Ashley Adams, an organizer with Stop Vermont Biomass. “Burlington deserves better than an old plan to meet a fake goal. City Council must reject district heat and commission a forward-thinking study about Burlington’s energy sources.”

BED claims to be on a path to “net zero,” yet their plan to meet this obscure goal relies on the expansion of McNeil. McNeil is the largest stationary source of emissions in the state of Vermont; BED refuses to count emissions from the trees that it burns to generate electricity. As with countless other “net zero” plans, BED relies on shaky math and carbon crediting that doesn’t align with the truth of McNeil’s emissions.

“There is not a tree I have ever met that knows whether a carbon dioxide molecule came from burning wood or burning coal. It just doesn’t work that way,” said Bill Moomaw, a climate scientist invited by Burlington’s City Council to a June symposium on BED’s shadowy carbon accounting. “In fact,” Moomaw continued, “protection of existing natural forest ecosystems is the highest priority for reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions,” per a 2019 IPCC report on which Moomaw was an author.

Concerned citizens have been working to break through BED’s information blockade for months. City Councilors, who will vote on the steam pipe project this fall, have almost exclusively received information about this project from BED. Despite clear consensus from the scientific community about the ills of biomass, Darren Springer and BED spokespeople have held fast to greenwashing talking points. 

“We showed up today to provide a public service. People deserve to know how bad this project is for Burlington, our forests, and our future. We’ve tried to speak at public meetings and have been bumped off the agenda, but this is our utility company, and this is our city. We had no choice but to make our voices heard at BED’s not zero festival,” said Lena Greenberg, an organizer present at the action.