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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

Planning considerations

Creating an Energy Transition Plan is complex, requiring the consideration of several variables to craft a balanced and sustainable course of action. The steering committee’s focus was to create a framework that moves MSU into 100% renewable energy while optimizing the five key variables of reliability, capacity, environment, health and cost. Renewable energy includes generation technology such as solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric power, geothermal systems, anaerobic digestion and others.


Reliability refers to the ability to have power when it’s needed. The level of reliable power can have significant impact on our teaching, research and outreach. Many research programs would be highly compromised with power outages.

Currently, MSU operates the power plant with redundant systems to ensure reliability. In the event of a complete plant outage, the university has the capability to independently restart the plant in a very short time period. The system’s reliability and redundancy enabled the university to maintain full operation during the 2003 blackout. The power plant’s interconnection to the local utility also provides reliability to the university in the form of emergency electricity supply.

As MSU incorporates more renewable technologies, the university will decide how to “firm” the renewable energy, or back up the power, so that the current level of reliability is maintained.


Capacity refers to the amount of energy that MSU can supply to the campus.

Firm capacity is the maximum amount of energy available at the power plant. There are firm capacity limits for steam and electricity. Assuming a growth rate of 2 million square feet per decade, it is expected that MSU will hit its firm capacity for steam in 2018 and electricity in 2039. It was determined that if the university continued business as usual, MSU would need to find means to provide additional power to the campus. It was estimated that an addition to the power plant similar to the Unit 4 capacity that was added in 1993, could cost as much as $100 million.


Several factors can be used to describe the environmental impacts of the energy infrastructure at MSU. In this case, the environmental impact is defined by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This includes six gasses: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. GHG emissions are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents or (CO2e). Greenhouse gases created from the burning of fossil fuels are thought to be the largest contributor to climate change. Reducing the use of fuels such as natural gas and using renewable energy will drastically decrease GHGs.


It is important to recognize that there are both benefits and adverse effects to any energy system. Providing reliable power to the community is beneficial. The adverse health effects considered in this plan were the result of air pollution, specifically particulate matter, NOx and SOx. Depending on the fuel burned, different levels of these pollutants are emitted in the combustion process.

Combusting fossil fuel produces air emissions that have been linked to respiratory problems such as asthma, lung cancer, heart disease and other health problems. Emission control technology has been installed at the power plant to reduce NOx, SOx, and particulate matter.


To be certain, affordability is a key element of any viable Energy Transition Plan. MSU has limited capacity to increase tuition or borrow money to pay for improvements recommended in this plan.
This plan considers the full cost of ownership, including capital investments, operational costs, disposal costs, end-of-life cost, manufacturing cost, transportation costs and costs of financing investment (debt service). The committee also considered how these costs affected tuition and the university’s credit rating.

A financial model was created by external consultants to help the committee determine the impact of various scenarios on the costs identified above.