Trustees approve firm to modify steam plant for natural gas use

January 21, 2011

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's Board of Trustees today (Jan. 21) approved Burns and McDonnell of St. Louis, Mo., as the consulting engineering firm for the design of steam production modifications at University Park. The firm has significant experience in the design and construction of large university campus heating systems, power plants and related emission control projects.

"For several years the University has been focused on the issue of energy, particularly sustainable energy, as it relates to the operation of our facilities," said Al Horvath, senior vice president for finance and business/treasurer. "We discussed options for complying with upcoming federal regulatory changes, the age and capacity of the East and West Campus steam plants that heat most buildings on campus, and our commitment to meeting our sustainability goals.

“After considering all variables, the most viable solution to continue to heat the campus is to convert our coal-fired steam production systems to natural gas."

The coal to gas conversion will impact the operation of both the West and East Campus steam plants. This project is part of an ongoing modernization strategy under consideration since 2005 as part of the University's Office of Physical Plant's energy master plan.

The West Campus steam plant, constructed in 1929, provides heat and power to 270 campus buildings. It houses four 1960s-era coal-fired boilers and one 1947 boiler already converted to natural gas. The East Campus plant on Porter Road opened in 1972 and provides steam during peak heating demands. It already operates a natural gas component.

University officials have long indicated that a decision for steam plant modifications would be guided by reliability of the solution, cost effectiveness, compliance with new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, and the University's commitment to environmental sustainability. These modifications are estimated to cost $20-35 million.

In March 2010 University officials presented information to the Board of Trustees regarding energy production and distribution at University Park.

"We will continue to evolve toward more renewable sources of energy as the technology matures and solutions prove to be scalable for a University the size of Penn State," explained Horvath, adding that the steam plant's modifications should be considered first steps in a long-term move toward energy solutions that address the four criteria of reliability, cost, compliance and sustainability.

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Last Updated January 21, 2011