Combined heat, power plant to up efficiency

The $96 million project will be completed in November 2016.

Molly Michaletz

In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and save money, the University of Minnesota is renovating the Old Main Heating Plant building.

The century-old building in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood is undergoing a $96 million renovation to transform it into a combined heat and power plant that will help provide warmth and electricity for campus buildings. Construction will begin in January and will be complete   by November 2016.

The combined heat and power plant system is a solution to University buildings’ increased demand for steam power. Many of the institution’s facilities are still running off outdated boilers from the 1940s, according to a Board of Regents presentation.

The East Bank campus currently receives all of its steam energy from an unreliable, off-campus source, said University Services spokesman Tim Busse.

And with the addition of many new buildings in the past 10 years, like research facilities and the University recreation center, the current system can’t continue to meet the demand for heat on campus, sustainability coordinator Shane Stennes said.

“What if one of our boilers goes down and becomes inoperable during peak demand in winter?” Stennes said.

Combining heat and power will give the University additional steam capacity, which would allow it to provide sufficient heat in buildings across campus, he said.

By replacing inefficient and unreliable coal burners, the combined heat and power plant will meet the University’s projected need for steam until 2028, Stennes said.

The renovated building will contain a natural gas turbine and a heat recovery steam boiler that will generate electricity and heat for campus buildings, according to the project’s website.

The technology is initially more expensive than its current system, Stennes said, but because it provides both steam and electricity, it will ultimately be more cost-efficient.

The project will reduce the University’s overall utility costs by up to $2 million each year, according to the Board of Regents documents.

Along with saving the school money, the new system will be much more energy-efficient, which helps the University become greener, sustainability education coordinator Beth Mercer-Taylor said.

“In the process of combining energy, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint by switching off of burning coal,” she said.

The University isn’t the first college trying to reduce its energy through combining powers.

Schools like Cornell University, Princeton University and the University of Iowa have similar energy-efficient systems in place.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2012 promoting industrial energy efficiency, which included the use of combining powers.

In 2011, University President Eric Kaler signed a commitment to create a climate action plan, which includes a goal for the institution to become carbon neutral by 2050. The University’s 2011 Climate Action Plan highlighted the campus’s steam plant as one of its largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The University identified the combined heat and power plant as a way to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and move the University toward a carbon-neutral campus.

“This will be a great addition to the University’s portfolio and how we provide energy for our campus,” Stennes said.