Steam plant renovation plans printed for public review

by Bei Hu

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is accepting public feedback on a proposed permit to allow the University to renovate one of its steam plants, which it uses for heating and cooling buildings.
A draft of the permit prepared by the agency was published in the June 15 issue of the Star Tribune for public review.
“We cannot issue the permit until we have given the public the opportunity to read and comment on any part of the permit,” said Dave Beil, a staff engineer at the agency.
University Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Roger Paschke said the renovation of the University’s outdated southeast steam plant, located on the Mississippi near the Interstate 35W bridge, would probably begin once the agency issues the permit.
“If the permit is granted for the existing plant location … we will immediately proceed with the plans and preparation for renovation on the river,” Beil said.
The University is holding discussions about the renovation with the Minneapolis City Council, in which there is considerable opposition to the project. Members of the council may vote Friday on a zoning code amendment that would prohibit construction of any coal-fired power plants within a “critical area” on the Mississippi River. Two steam plants serve the Minneapolis campus and both fall within this area.
Opposition to the steam plant renovation rises out of concerns about the environmental impact of coal-burning plants near the Mississippi. Renovation of the plant also conflicts with community groups’ plans to make property near the river available for public recreation.
Beil said public notice is required by state and federal environmental regulations for any permit that allows more than a certain amount of air pollution. In the case of the University steam plant renovations, the public notice process that started June 15 will take 30 days.
The citizens’ board of the pollution control agency will decide whether to grant or amend a permit for the renovation at its August meeting. The board consists of nine members appointed by the governor.
Paschke expressed optimism about the University’s chance of getting the permit.
“We have no reason to think the permits won’t be granted,” he said. “But until the MPCA actually hears the application and acts on it, we really can’t proceed on anything.”
The draft of the permit requires the University to shut down all six boilers in its main steam plant. The plant is located next to the University’s East Bank campus.
The draft also proposes the installation of three new boilers in the southeast steam plant on the Mississippi. Two of the new boilers would burn natural gas and sulfur fuel oil; the other one may burn either coal or natural gas. The two existing boilers in the plant, which are powered by coal, would serve as backup equipment.
Beil said the permit only deals with air pollution, though the agency’s citizens’ board might put some conditions on it.
Paschke said the University has not completely ruled out the possibility of moving the steam plants to an off-river site. But he emphasized that constructing a new plant off-river could be costly.
“The University does not have the ability to fund all of the incremental costs associated with building off-river,” he said.
He also said the search for such a new site has to proceed within the University’s time frame, and that renovation or construction will be completed within 2 « years.
“This whole issue … has been there for years. The University is at a critical point now where we really cannot continue to delay construction of some heating facilities, whether it’s renovation of existing facilities or construction of new facilities.”