Plant shutdown leaves U without main heat source

Mike Oakes

The University’s primary source of heat has fallen victim to its 12th shutdown in as many months, leaving some buildings on the Minneapolis campus without a source of heat or air conditioning at times.
The Southeast Steam Plant, located adjacent to the Stone Arch Bridge on the University’s East Bank, is incurring problems with its boilers and turbine generator, equipment scheduled to be up to operating standards by May 1999.
But a series of malfunctions and setbacks have resulted in a new operational deadline of 18 to 24 months from now, University Vice President for Institutional Relations Sandra Gardebring said.
The University acquired permission to renovate its steam plant in 1997, despite legal entanglements with the city and state. The city of Minneapolis sued the University in July 1997, claiming the school violated the city’s zoning code.
Three years later, the University is still having steam plant problems.
A malfunctioning turbine has caused some University buildings to lose heat and air conditioning to larger structures, such as Fairview-University Hospital and campus residence halls.
“We have a load-shedding plan that we exercise whenever steam drops,” explained Dan Hambrock, University associate vice president of facilities management. “We might drop off some minor buildings.”
And with winter’s onslaught on the horizon, University officials are seeking a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permit allowing them to revive the Main Steam Plant down the river, Gardebring said.
Emergency use of the main plant would be prompted only if the existing plant lost pressure all together, an unlikely occurrence, Hambrock said.
But the University will also require use of the Main plant while repairs are made in the Southeast plant.
Once revived, the plant would only be used for a short period, after which it would be decommissioned and its stacks removed, Gardebring said.
Foster Wheeler Corp., the firm hired by the University to renovate and maintain the Southeast plant, will work during the interim to repair the steam plant’s rotor, a partial fix that Hambrock contends should help relieve the plant of malfunctions.
“During that time we need the Main Steam Plant up and running to carry the load because the entire Southeast plant has to be off-line — cold,” Hambrock said. “We won’t be making any steam there at all.”
If the rotor can’t successfully be fixed, University officials will require the New Jersey-based firm to buy a new turbine, Hambrock said.
But he admitted that could delay it another 24 months.
And if the University does not receive the MPCA permit to revive the Main Steam Plant, Foster Wheeler would have to delay fixing the rotor, Hambrock said, “and hope it doesn’t become a problem later on.”
East Bank Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Mpls., has expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to renovate the steam plant from the start:
“At the time I thought it was the worst policy I’ve ever seen made in this state.”