Penn State Board of Trustees approves on-campus gas pipeline route

LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. – Over the last four weeks, Columbia Gas and Penn State have been preparing a cost estimate for an on-campus route for the natural gas pipeline to serve the University Park’s West Campus Steam Plant. On Friday (July 12), Penn State’s Board of Trustees approved a $9.6 million increase in the project’s budget to accommodate the new costs associated with this alternative to the original proposed route through State College borough.

“The ultimate benefits to the University and the community will be cleaner air and a commitment to a more sustainable future,” said Ford Stryker, associate vice president for the Office of Physical Plant. “The transition to natural gas in the immediate term will be accompanied in coming years by increasing our use of renewable energy sources and limiting our energy consumption.”

The University has studied and discussed multiple options for meeting its sustainability goals while addressing the age and capacity of its campus steam plants and complying with Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act emissions regulations that will take effect in January 2016. After considering all variables, the most viable solution to continue to heat the campus is a conversion of the West Campus coal-fired steam plant to burn natural gas. The move will reduce the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent.

The University plans to replace three coal-fired boilers with two, new high-capacity gas-fired boilers. The new boilers will be installed one at a time, with the first needing to be on line by the winter of 2014/15 to heat the University Park campus. This means a new gas line to the West Campus Steam Plant must be operational by Dec. 1, 2014.

The West Campus Steam Plant conversion from coal to gas was approved by Penn State’s Board of Trustees this past November, and authority was granted to award contracts, including a 30-year service agreement with Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania. A complementary project to replace the 75- and 66-year-old turbines in the West Campus Steam Plant was also approved.

In March, Columbia submitted information to State College borough with plans to begin work in April on the original route they identified in consultation with borough officials and PennDOT that would run through State College.

At an April 1 State College Borough Council meeting, residents expressed a number of concerns with routing the line through a residential neighborhood. As a result of those concerns, the borough council passed a resolution that opposed the route of the pipeline and instructed staff to not approve Columbia’s application for a permit.

At Penn State’s request, Columbia in April began a reconsideration of on-campus routes that had previously been reviewed. Columbia confirmed the routes were still not practical, and two new routes were explored. On June 10, Columbia identified a northern on-campus route that appeared to be a viable alternative to the borough route. Between then and now Columbia, Penn State and their service providers have been working to determine the pricing and construction schedule for this route and the cost impact.

The route (see map and slideshow) will begin near the bottom of Porter Road at Columbia’s existing regulation station. From there, the route will parallel Porter Road, along the edge of the swine pasture. The route will turn west onto Hastings Road for a short distance and then continue to University Drive. At University Drive, the route will turn north to follow the bike path.

After boring under Curtin Road near the Bryce Jordan Center, the route will turn west, and another bore will be used to cross University Drive near the Intramural Building. The route will then turn to parallel University Drive toward Park Avenue. The route will turn west and run through a parking lot before boring under Park Avenue. From here, the route will run parallel to Park Avenue while passing in front of the Law School and through the front of the Arboretum. The route will then re-cross Park Avenue and head south on Shortlidge Road.

Turning west onto Curtin Road, the route will pass by the Palmer Museum of Art and Pattee Library on its way to Recreation Hall, where the route will turn south onto Burrowes Road. The route will leave Burrowes Road because of congestion with existing utilities and will run under the sidewalk on the west side of the street. Three large elms will be removed to make room for the installation. Smaller trees will be temporarily relocated and replanted.

Just before the Pollock Road intersection, the route will turn west onto a service road that serves Noll Lab. After a short distance, the route will turn south and bore under the bottom of the IST Building ramp. After passing through the park on the corner of Burrowes and Pollock road, the gas line will terminate in a meter and regulation station near Walker Building. From here, Columbia will install a six-inch line to an existing Columbia line near IST to serve other customers in the surrounding area. Also from the meter and regulation station near Walker Building, Penn State will run new service into the West Campus Steam Plant.

Construction work is scheduled to begin in October on sections of the line that can be installed while classes are in session and also areas that will not adversely impact activities around football games. Following football season, subsequent sections will be installed as weather permits. After commencement in May 2014, work will begin between Park Avenue and the West Campus Steam Plant to be completed in time for student return in August.

Installing the route on campus adds approximately $9.6 million to the cost. There are three components of this cost increase: 1) the on-campus pipeline itself will cost about $7.4 million more; 2) delays and changes to the West Campus Steam Plant conversion project will add $1.6 million for a total of $9 million; 3) these same delays to the turbine generator inside the West Campus Steam Plant amount to $600,000.

A number of factors contribute to the added costs. Most significantly, the construction that was to begin in early April will now start in October. The completion date has not changed, so the contractors will have to accelerate their work. Further, the reduced construction window and the constraints of working on campus will result in a fragmented construction sequence and a compressed schedule.

The route is also 1,000 feet longer, there are twice as many utility crossings and borings, and additional surface restoration work will be required. University officials further anticipate that the cost of some of the materials and equipment needed for the pipeline and power plant will be higher than originally bid due to the delay.

In addition to the actual construction costs, both Penn State and Columbia spent significant amounts on re-evaluating alternative energy sources to heat the campus and in re-examining previously dismissed on-campus routes. Funding for the cost increases will come from a combination of balance sheet reserves and an internal loan paid for by utility rates charged to auxiliary enterprises.

“Fortunately, the ultimate benefits to the University and the community will be cleaner air and a commitment to a more sustainable future,” said Ford Stryker, associate vice president for the Office of Physical Plant. “The transition to natural gas in the immediate term will be accompanied in coming years by increasing our use of renewable energy sources and limiting our energy consumption.” Penn State has succeeded in reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases by nearly 18 percent since 2006 and has a plan for an overall reduction of 35 percent over the next five years. For details on the plan, go to www.ghg.psu.edu.

The University will be hosting an informational meeting on its energy future on Wednesday, September 4, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM in the HUB Auditorium on campus. The meeting will refresh the community on the University’s existing efficiency efforts and successes as well as its long-term energy planning. For more information on the University’s sustainability initiatives and activities, visit www.sustainability.psu.edu.

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Last Updated July 12, 2013