Is Coming to Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock’s Union Arena to Go Net-Zero with Solar
By Barbara Whitchurch
“If you can make an ice rink net-zero, you can make anything net-zero.” – Harold Mayhew, Woodstock Union Arena Board President
As most Vermont readers know, Vermont has a statewide goal of being 90% renewable by 2050. There are myriad projects in the works that will help the state achieve that goal. But ice skating rinks do not customarily make that list, until now.
The Woodstock Union Arena is a popular place, with approximately 100,000 visits each year. Built in 2003, with 17,000 square feet of open space, the arena is open year-round — and many local residents go there every week. In addition to skating and ice-related sports, the arena is available to rent for concerts, outings, antique shows, art shows, school graduations, theatre festivals, concerts, fundraisers, and sports practice. According to their website, the Union Arena, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to offer affordable and accessible healthy activities for all families and the overall population of the region.”
“The arena provides a sense of pride; a community gathering place to enjoy family, friends and visitors; and a place to develop healthy activities,” said arena manager EJay Bishop in an interview with the Valley Standard. “It’s an economic engine that produces approximately $2.5 million toward the local economy” — and it is not supported by tax dollars at all. Not bad for a non-profit!
It costs a lot of money to run an ice arena, and a sizeable chunk of that goes to energy costs. Ice arenas are big, and they use huge amounts of electricity to run the equipment that makes and maintains the ice, not to mention the lighting, heating and ventilation.
Despite its popularity, this 13-year-old arena was in deep financial trouble three years ago. The Woodstock community has a shrinking youth population, and the realities of rising energy costs were pressing in. Harold Mayhew, a Barnard resident and architect who actually designed the original rink, became involved again several years ago when their energy bill had pushed the rink to the brink of closing. Mayhew has previously designed arenas, including the Kreitzburg Arena at Norwich University and the rink at Maine’s Bowdoin College, which became the nation’s first hockey rink to be certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a building code standard that rates buildings on their energy efficiency and other standards.
As many homeowners know all too well, as much as we may want to reduce our long-term expenses, it’s challenging to balance our budgets with the costs of upgrading our structures. “They were having such a hard time keeping the doors open, they couldn’t afford to do any of the work to cut down on energy consumption,” said Mayhew, who joined the Board of Directors in 2013 and later became president. Energy costs at about $140,000 a year had reached about a third of the rink’s total budget of $500,000.
Under Mayhew’s direction, the Board came up with the following four-tier strategy:
By reducing their heating, fuel and electricity costs to zero (commonly known as “net-zeroing” — a fairly new verb in the lexicon), they could make the arena sustainable. This would not only help their budget but would benefit the environment by reducing their carbon footprint. In turn, it would make their programs more affordable for the Woodstock community. In fact, they anticipate a dramatic reduction in the costs of these programs once they get to net-zero.
To even think about getting to net-zero, the arena needed to assess what they already had, and what they already had needed a lot of work. So, the first tier of the plan involved completely rebuilding their existing refrigeration plant (the thing that keeps the ice hard.). Encouragingly, since tier 1 was finished, they’ve realized a 12% annual savings, and they expect that number to go even higher as more of the tier 2 renovations are completed.
Tier 2 will tackle the HVAC system (AC, ventilating, heating) and lighting, and tier 3 will install solar panels, to offset the cost of the energy demand. (The solar system will be installed by a local solar company, whom we are not free to reveal at this time.) Tier 4 will integrate all of the improvements together in two to three years’ time. The net consumption will be reduced dramatically with each subsequent tier of work.
The chart below shows how annual energy costs will be reduced by the four-tier plan.
How does the Board’s four-tiered plan look in terms of dollars saved through energy cost reductions? Here’s the breakdown:
Tier 1: Refrigeration plant overhaul: savings of $20,000
Tier 2: HVAC Upgrade: savings of $20,000
Tier 3: Solar farm: savings of $50,000
Tier 4: Complete system integration: savings of $50,000
TOTAL SAVINGS: $140,000
This project will be expensive — a sizeable $1.4 million dollars. The fundraising began earlier this year, even before the project was publicly launched, and the arena has already raised about one-third of their $1.4 million.
Across the country, rinks large and small are always looking for innovative ways to save energy — and therefore money and carbon. The National Hockey League’s Greener Rinks initiative is sharing best practices with the small community rinks. Here are some examples:
At the University of Colorado, excess heat from the skating rink’s refrigeration system is used to heat the water in the swimming pool.
Paul Moore, the chairman of the Board of Governors for Falmouth Youth Hockey in Massachusetts and the coach of the Falmouth High School hockey team, has reduced his community’s facility’s electric bill by installing 4,400 solar panels on the roof and in a nearby parking lot that produces just short of one megawatt of electricity, enough for about 164 homes.The Falmouth Arena was featured on the cover of the Dec. 15, 2016 issue of Green Energy Times, and we believe that it is actually the first net-zero skating rink in the U.S. http://bit.ly/GET-12-16.
And then, there’s Canada.
Blogger Colleen O’Shea, a self-identified “hockey mom,” who has written in the online journal “Re-surfacing” (12/22/16) about the Woodstock Arena’s plans to net-zero their facility, has also written an interesting piece about the town of Kapuskasing, Ontario, where the town council has decided to go “almost off the grid” with its recreation center. She writes, “Going off the grid is an idea that municipalities and arena owners sometimes dream about…but not many have the courage to take that big step forward. Not so with the Town of Kapuskasing. This northern Canadian lumber town decided to take their 40-year-old recreation center nearly off the grid in an effort to reduce its yearly energy spending. By installing modern equipment and creating electricity by using cheap natural gas, their savings would cover the financing costs of the project, with a 25-year savings estimate of $4.775 million.”
The Kapuskasing Regional Conference Complex (a.k.a. the “Sports Palace”) is a true community complex with a kitchen, meeting rooms and a stage, as well as a twin pad for skating and five curling sheets. One of the twin pads is used for off-ice activities from May to August; the other is used year-round. In 2017, the Town will be adding an indoor swimming pool to the complex. The proposed new energy system was budgeted at $2 million.
In the fall of 2015, when the Kapuskasing town council approved the overhaul, the annual energy costs for “Sports Palace” was $260K. The projected energy usage after the installation would see that number halved– down to $130K. It would give the facility a new, energy-efficient mechanical/electrical/controls system, including superior ice-making equipment for harder, better quality ice; replacing the existing ammonia plant with a system using bio-degradable, food-grade glycol; and monitoring software and automatic controls to simplify maintaining the ice.
So, although the Woodstock Arena is not the only facility to explore innovative methods of energy conservation and financial solvency, it is certainly at the head of its class. Mayhew hopes that the net zero goal can be reached in about two years, and that it will be an example for other rinks.
It is an excellent example indeed.
The Woodstock Union Arena is located at 80 Amsden Way, Woodstock, VT (802) 457-2500. Learn more at union arena.org.
Barbara Whitchurch is a Board Member of Vermont Passive House, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about the concept of Passive House and promoting the Passive House Standard among architects, builders and state government (phausvt.org). She is the co-owner of a certified passive house in Middlesex, Vermont. She is a freelance editor, writer and jewelry artisan ,and the pet parent of the world’s greatest Great Pyrenees, Bailey.