Clarkson’s Saranac Lake locations may need zoning change for wood boilers

SARANAC LAKE – Clarkson University wants to install wood pellet boilers at the two Lake Flower Avenue buildings that house its Adirondack Semester programs as part of a state-funded demonstration project.

However, the installation of one of the devices could require an amendment to a 2005 village law that banned outdoor wood boilers. Whether or not that change is necessary hinges on an interpretation village Community Development Director and Code Enforcement Officer Jeremy Evans plans to deliver to the village Board of Trustees, possibly by early next week.

Prof. Phillip Hopke, director of Clarkson’s Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science, outlined the project at a special village board meeting Tuesday.

Hopke said there’s been a lot of interest in swapping out fuel oil burners for wood since petroleum prices spiked several years ago. He noted that several businesses and institutions around the region have acquired and installed wood pellet boilers in recent years, primarily with funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Clarkson put a 150-kilowatt boiler in the university’s Walker Center in 2009. The Wild Center in Tupper Lake installed a 500-kilowatt model the following year. In 2011, the Saranac Lake Central School District installed a wood pellet boiler at the Petrova elementary and middle school.

Earlier this year, Hopke said the university received roughly $275,000 from NYSERDA to pilot a residential wood pellet boiler project. Clarkson is working with Troy Boiler Works to install a pair of residential-scale boilers in the two Lake Flower (Avenue) houses the university rents from Cherry Sayles.

Each building’s system would include a boiler, a thermal storage unit and a wood pellet storage facility. At 245 Lake Flower Ave., the boiler and thermal storage facility would be put in the building’s basement while a metal pellet storage silo would be located outside the house, Hopke said. Access to the basement at 237 Lake Flower Ave. is more difficult, Hopke explained, so the boiler and other equipment would have to be kept outside. The university has proposed putting the boiler system in a shipping container in the backyard, which Hopke said was a recommendation from the manufacturer. He also said it would be safer to keep the pellet storage outside the house, so there are no carbon monoxide issues.

Hopke said former village Code Enforcement Officer Tom Worthington initially told him that he didn’t think putting the boiler in a shipping container would qualify as an outdoor wood boiler.

“When we talked to Tom back in June, we thought we had clear sailing,” he said. “Now as we’ve been talking more recently, the question is, is this an outdoor wood boiler or isn’t it? And if so, do we run into problems with chapter 294 of your village code? That’s what we want to figure out.”

Hopke said the boilers have already been constructed and he’d like to have them installed in the next few weeks. The next group of Clarkson students will be on the property in January, and the theme for the upcoming semester is “Biomass Energy in the Adirondacks,” Hopke added.

Evans said the issue of whether a wood boiler in a shipping container is an outdoor wood boiler is a legitimate question, “but I’m kind of thinking now that it isn’t.” It will also have to be determined if it’s an accessory structure that would have to meet certain setbacks or if it’s part of the house because it’s connected to the heating system, Evans said.

Mayor Clyde Rabideau asked Evans to look into what it would take to modify village law, if necessary, to allow the demonstration project to move forward. Asked by Rabideau how long it could take to change or amend the law, village Attorney Charles Noth said it could be a minimum of 45 days.

“It appears a lot will rest on the determination of our code enforcement officer and Community Development Director Jeremy Evans,” Rabideau said.

Trustee Allie Pelleteri said it doesn’t sound like what’s proposed is a typical outdoor wood boiler. He asked if the boiler systems would be temporary or permanent. Hopke said they would be in place for at least a few years to collect the necessary data.

Trustee Paul Van Cott asked for more information on the emissions associated with the boilers, given that they would be located in a residential area.

Hopke said carbon monoxide emissions would be roughly the same or somewhat less than a comparable size oil boiler. Particulate emissions would be twice that of a same-size oil boiler, but Hopke noted that the new units would be smaller than the buildings’ current boilers, which he said are oversized.

Evans said he might be able to have a report ready for the board at its meeting Monday night.

“I don’t want to delay this,” he said.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or