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Sunday, June 16,2013

OU ready to start construction on natural gas-burning power plant

Will discontinue use of coal

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: Provided by Ohio University
Photo Caption: The plan for the plant that will replace the Lausche heating plant.

Ohio University is slated to handle a variety of capital projects in its 2014 fiscal year including the construction of a new $70 million replacement power plant.

Unlike the existing plant, the new facility will run on natural gas instead of coal. The university has tried running its current plant on natural gas in the past, and student groups have called on the university to move faster toward climate neutrality.

The new facility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and come into compliance with expected new federal environmental regulations.

University officials discussed the Lausche Heating Plant Replacement Plan during a facilities conference call Thursday afternoon.

Executive Director of Facilities Management Mike Gebeke is slated to give a presentation on the topic to the OU Board of Trustees when they meet at the end of this week.

In a letter to the Trustees, Stephen T. Golding, vice president for finance and administration, calls the replacement project a main feature of the university's six-year capital plan.

He outlined how the university will transition from the current coal-based Lausche plant to a new natural gas facility.

"The university has committed to phase out the use of coal as part of its Climate Action Plan," Golding wrote. "(U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency regulations are becoming more stringent and make the use of coal much more difficult and costly. At the same time, the university's boiler system has met its useful life and needs replacement in any case."

The new plant needs to be flexible to deal with changing utility cost structures and to take into account the rehabilitation and growth plans for the campus as a whole, he added.

Golding noted that the cost of electricity is forecast to rise dramatically and that in the next three years capacity and transportation charges will likely double from the current $42 per megawatt cost.

"This would have a $5.5 million annual impact to the university," he wrote. "This utility climate leads to a plant design with natural gas as the primary fuel and the ability to generate electricity to supplement the university's electrical power purchases."

He said the new plant design will be 85 percent efficient in converting natural gas to useful energy. It will also utilize waste heat from the steam generation process to produce electricity, and the plant design will achieve EPA compliance and reduce greenhouse emissions.

Gebeke said the plant itself will be a new building located near the existing Lausche Heating Plant off South Shafer Street on the city's southwest side.

"We'll be able to decommission the old plant after we get the new plant online, which means I don't have to pay money to rent temporary facilities," he said.

Gebeke said that as the old plant is decommissioned, there will be space for any new technologies the university may want to install.

He also said that natural gas will be used as a "bridging fuel until we find any new technology in the future."

"Right now, really that's the only option we have," he said. "It will be a flexible plant that will be able to adapt to changing utilities and what costs are, what happens in the market going forward."

He said the plant would be co-generation so it can use diesel gas as a back-up fuel, and will have two back-up natural gas boilers.

Presentation materials for the board show the plant will feature two gas combustion turbines and two heat recovery steam generators that recover and use steam from the turbine exhaust. The plant will also have two new gas boilers, one steam chiller, one electrical chiller and "state-of-the-art" heat exchangers.

"Besides heating campus, that steam in the summertime will be used to make chilled water for the campus," he said. "We have steam chillers and we'll also have electric coolers so we can provide year-round cooling."

He called the new facility a "50-year plant," for the university, making the point that they are building it to last a long time.

A design-build firm is slated to be selected this fall, he said, and construction is expected to be completed by Jan. 31, 2016.

"When it's completed, the new plant will reduce our greenhouse gas impact on the campus, and we will be in compliance with all new EPA rules and regulations that take place (by the same completion date)," Gebeke said.

As for what happens to the old plant, Gebeke said for a while it will remain in place and be available for experiments with the Clean Coal Institute. He noted that EPA approval is required to do that.

"Over time, it will probably be taken out as we put new technology in," he said. "It's basically going to be space for the future and any new technology that comes up."

A name for the new plant has not been established yet, officials said.

Golding noted that the current $70 million price tag is down from a previous $100 million estimate.

He also said that the current plan is to finance the project with university debt rather than private debt via a public/private partnership.

"Refined engineering and delivery method are the main reasons for the lower budget," he said.

Golding also noted, though, that the new facility will provide opportunities for future partnerships.

"The heating plant replacement project provides a means to partner with other entities such as the city of Athens or our local hospital in providing and generating various utilities, whether it be on a routine or back-up basis," he said.


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