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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

Replace high carbon energy sources with lower carbon sources

Maximize switching to alternative, cleaner fuels (subject to availability, technical, and regulatory constraints)

The T.B. Simon Power Plant is a co-generation plant that produces steam and electricity for campus. The plant currently uses natural gas and biomass as fuel.

At the time this plan was created, the primary fuel used at the plant was coal. However, despite being low cost, coal is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air emissions that impact health. With conservation efforts and increased use of natural gas, the power plant discontinued the burning of coal in 2016.

The power plant boilers are set up as “plug and play” equipment, meaning that existing boilers can be switched out for other equipment. As technology emerges, newer, no emissions/low emissions fuels or equipment that decrease emissions may be switched with the current technology, creating more viable options in a central plant setting as the university moves toward renewable energy.

No coal

The committee specifically discussed having a goal or strategy that utilized the dual functionality of the existing four boilers to burn natural gas instead of coal so as to eliminate or minimize the use of coal in the near future. The business-as-usual scenario replaces two of the four boilers in 2025 and the other two in 2040 with natural gas turbines, when the current boilers reach the end of their planned useful life. The committee recognized that the power plant had the technical capability to eliminate the burning of coal in FY2013, but refrained from recommending a ‘no coal’ policy statement due to the desire to maintain fuel flexibility and concerns about the impact of rising natural gas prices on future energy conservation and renewable energy investments.

The committee agreed that the university should prioritize energy conservation measures. Reduced energy demand saves money that can be reinvested for future energy needs. The committee also recommended burning 100% natural gas in Boiler 3 to eliminate the need for a $24 million power plant investment in emissions controls due to recent Boiler MACT regulations.

Fuel switching beyond Boiler 3 was necessary to meet the recommended short term emissions targets. Estimates suggest that using the maximum amount of natural gas throughout the power plant would reduce GHG emissions up to 50% and individual air pollutants by 66-99% (assuming energy conservation and some additional supply side strategies). However, it was also estimated that it would add approximately $3.5-$6 million annually in gas costs, which would limit the funds available for re-investment into energy conservation measures and renewable energy infrastructure.

The goals and vision are set such that MSU would eliminate all fossil fuels over time. To meet the emission targets in the near term, the university needed to go beyond 100% natural gas in Boiler 3 in concert with energy conservation measures and implementing renewable energy infrastructure until larger capacity renewable energy options are available.

Purchase green power

Another method for reducing emissions and increasing renewable energy is to purchase green power from local utilities companies. The state of Michigan required utility companies to have 10% of their energy come from renewable resources by 2015. MSU purchases a small amount of energy from two local utilities, the Lansing Board of Water and Light and Consumer’s Energy for service to the south campus farm area. The MSU T.B. Simon Power Plant has an electrical interconnection with Consumer Energy for back up electrical power for a portion of main campus. Utilities get renewable energy from wind, anaerobic digestion, solar, and hydroelectric projects.

Another option may include purchasing green energy via open access. Retail Open Access allows customers such as MSU to contract with an alternative energy source directly versus purchasing energy from a utility company.

An added benefit of purchasing power is greater efficiency at the power plant. In a cogeneration plant, the system is most efficient when the demand for steam and electricity are congruent. However, the demand for electricity is out-pacing the demand for steam, thus decreasing plant efficiency. Green power (electricity) could be purchased to bring the steam and electricity production at the plant into balance and thus have a higher plant efficiency. This also would contribute to a significant amount of the renewable energy target set in this plan.

Create a large-scale renewable project

Renewable energy may be incorporated into the earlier strategy by implementing more aggressive building energy standards; however, another method of increasing renewable energy is to create a large-scale renewable project such as a wind or solar farm, or MSU’s solar carport initiative. Just as a centralized power plant helps the university realize efficiencies, a centralized renewable energy source will likely be more efficient than several decentralized projects.