Skip to content



Energy-efficient monastery is in keeping with Catholic faith

Brother Peter, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson, and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Stephen Pike pose in front of the wood chip loading area.

HARVARD — Saint Benedict Center has a brand new boiler powered by wood chips.

State officials came Thursday to see the newly completed project, which provides heat and hot water to 10 buildings on the property through a series of copper pipes.

“It’s been a great learning experience to work on the project and to make the monastery efficient and productive,” said Brother Peter Brackett, who led the tour.

With the Catholic faith, he said, there is a sense of responsibility and not being self-centered or abusive. The center has applied those teachings to strive to be environmentally efficient.

The center can save up to $40,000 a year on energy costs through the biomass boiler system.

The tour started at a compartment to load wood chips, which are all processed on site. An auger mixes and pushes them toward the bottom, where they are carried to the boiler in the next room over.

Secretary Matt Beaton of the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Judith Judson, and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Stephen Pike cut a ribbon to the boiler room.

The room contains the machine that fires up the wood chips and generates heat. There is also a tank that heats water for the abbey’s buildings.

Next, the tour went through mechanic and wood work shops to show where the copper heating pipes run. In some rooms, the piping runs along the wall close to the ceiling.

On the way to the convent is a pile of lumber that will be used for the boiler. It is about a two year’s supply.

The convent up the hill houses the previous boiler system in its basement. That system now serves as a backup.

The biomass project was funded mostly by a 2014 grant of about $700,000 from DOER and MassCEC. The entire project cost about $1.1 million.

Pike said the grant was good match for the Saint Benedict Center because the it was already familiar with biomass heating. In the past, the center has used wood for heating.

“It is a perfect example that it takes a relatively unique circumstances to come together,” he said.

Work on the project began about two years ago.

A few brothers from the monastery worked on excavation for the pipes and foundation work. It would have cost $200,000 to have others do it.

The boiler has been running since the winter and finishing touches were just completed.