Proctor Academy’s Unsung Hero of Heat

By Eric Nemirovsy, Proctor Academy Student
Smokestack on Walt Wright Biomass Plant at Proctor Academy. The clouds contain only water vapor.

As we enter the heart of winter, the previously dormant smokestack of the Walt Wright Biomass Plant has begun spewing vapor again, and Proctor Academy will rely on Dana Newton to ensure we all receive heat.

Dana Newton (right) teaches Proctor students about the plant.

If you are ever looking for Dana, the first place you should check is the biomass plant. On top of being responsible for all of Proctor’s plumbing needs, he spends forty hours a week in the plant.
Being an unusual system for heating on a large scale, there is no user’s manual. When Proctor built the biomass facility in 2009, running it became Dana’s responsibility. Dana recalled the plant’s early years of operation saying, “It was certainly a learning experience. There are a lot of moving parts and things that can go wrong. The steam is under extreme pressure and needs to be handled properly. Within the facility’s first year of operation, I almost blew the whole thing up.”
Proctor’s biomass plant was built in 2009. It replaced the oil furnaces that produced heat for the campus for fifteen years. In a period of four and a half months (the amount of time the plant runs each year), Proctor burns 135,000 gallons of oil, which costs approximately $337,000 for the four months. The chip plant burns three loads of wood chips a week, and a load costs $1200 dollars, so the investment in the plant means fuel costs are reduced to approximately $70,000 dollars for the same time period.  

The Biomass plant saves Proctor significant money while distributing steam through a network of pipes to roughly 70% of Proctor’s campus. It produces this steam by burning wood chips harvested entirely from the Proctor woodlands as well as adjacent lands. Though you can see thick white plumes billowing from the stack on cold days, the plant’s only emissions are clean water vapor.

Dana stays on call 24/7. If the plant malfunctions and shuts down, he needs to be there night or day, before Proctor’s pipes freeze. Most students don’t know him, but we all rely on Dana to keep us warm and comfortable in the winter.