Coal at Lausche

OU will halt the burning of coal. This photo from 2012 shows coal piled high at the Lausche Heating Plant on Ohio University's campus.

A little more than a month before 2015 ended, on Thanksgiving Day, Ohio University achieved a watershed moment in its history as an institution: It ended its burning of coal as a resource to heat and cool its buildings.

OU achieved a similarly significant environmental milestone by the end of 2015: a full transition of all electricity accounts on OU’s Athens campus to use 50 percent renewable energy (wind energy). According to a spreadsheet provided by Joe Lalley, senior associate vice president of information technology and administrative services, after that transition, roughly 21 percent of OU’s total energy load is now generated by renewable energy resources.

OU’s steam-heating and cooling system – previously coal-powered – is now powered by natural gas, thanks in part to a new, medium-pressure natural-gas pipeline installed underneath campus (and under the Hocking River) in mid-2015. That pipeline construction generated controversy in summer 2015, with protesters rallying outside one of the work sites. At the same time, environmental activists and sustainability advocates have applauded OU’s move to using 50 percent renewable energy for its electricity in recent months.

Lalley wrote in a Dec. 1 email that OU is contracting with AEP Ohio to procure the university’s electricity (a four-year contract). Fifty percent of OU’s average 120,000 megawatt hours of electricity used per year are set to come from wind energy, Lalley said. The wind energy comes from RECs (renewable energy credits) purchased through California-based company Green-e, which bills itself as “the nation's leading independent certification and verification program for renewable energy and greenhouse-gas emission reductions in the retail market” on its website.

The total cost of OU’s purchase of the RECs represents an increase of roughly $50,000 to $60,000 in annual energy costs per year (OU spends roughly $7 million a year on energy purchases), or an additional cost of 45 cents per megawatt hour. Lalley has previously noted that OU reduced its energy spent (by 19 percent) and water used (by 30 percent) at the Lausche heating plant, resulting in $300,000 saved between June and September of 2015.

With the transition to natural gas, the smokestack and silos at the Lausche heating plant on OU’s campus will be removed sometime this spring. A coal pile still sits on the property, but reportedly will be removed as well.

Both coal-fired boilers at Lausche have been shuttered, and temporary natural gas-burning boilers have been rented; Lalley said the university anticipates permanent natural-gas burning boilers to be operational at the plant “no later than September 2017.”

Lalley noted in a later email in December that “the last coal fire (at Lausche) died out and Boiler #2 was cleaned and stowed at about 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015.”

OU’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2013, has set goals for the university to be completely carbon neutral by 2075. OU already already had met a similar goal to generate 20 percent of its total energy from renewable resources by 2020.

The OU Board of Trustees approved an Energy Infrastructure Projects Initiative in late June last year, with the goal of spending a total of $79 million over a two- or three-year period to improve energy conservation, progress toward carbon neutrality and comply with energy regulations. That initiative includes the following planned expenses: $1.1 million for development of a Utility Master Plan; $34.4 million to build a new chilled-water plant; $18.5 million to upgrade electrical distribution systems on the Athens campus; and a $25 million project to improve steam production capabilities while upgrading Lausche to burn natural gas.

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