Band-Aids don’t last forever: Fixing UAF’s power plant problem

Lakeidra Chavis/ Editor-in-Chief

April 15, 2014


Let’s face it.

Our power plant is old.

So old in fact, that in a 2011 interview with the Sun Star, Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Scott Bell said that the boilers in the plant were “at the end of their useful life.”

That same year, the legislature funded an approximately $25 million patch of a project that would upgrade the electrical systems that help monitor energy in the plant.

The heat and power plant does actually what it sounds like. The plant is responsible for everything from campus sewage to monitoring the heat in the science labs on West Ridge. If it shuts down, campus shuts down.

And regardless of the $25 million expense three years ago, that band-aid is starting to peel off.

And the new one will require students to help keep the patchwork on.

Last Friday, the Senate Finance Committee approved an approximately $2.1 billion capital budget for the University of Alaska. The committee added a $245 million multi-funded package to replace UAF’s power plant. How are students included in this package?

Well, part of the funding will come from students, either through a utility surcharge or an increase in tuition to pay for the approximately $176 million in bonds the university will need to take out to cover their part of the bill.

Despite the fact that tuition has increased steadily–2 percent–in the past few years, some of the lowest rates in the country, the same can’t be said for the next few years.

Old maintenance that has gone unchecked on campus, construction for the university’s centennial and a dying plant–it’s time to get real.

The exact form in which students will have to carry the burden is unclear.

It’s a bit ridiculous that after legislative funding for an addition to the Duckering Engineering building and other starry-eyed projects, the main focus is just now being brought to the power plant.

Guys, has the point that this thing is literally almost ancient not been made clear?

In the FY15’s Redbook, a book filled with the Board of Regents’ and UA President Pat Gamble’s budget requests and ensuing line items, the president lists the top three priority investments for UA. Although the items aren’t numbered, the legislature’s support of UAF’s power plant upgrade is last, right behind the UAA-UAF joint engineering building funding.

For the UAF heat and power plant major upgrade summary, the book states that, “these boilers have reached the end of their useful life and need to be replaced prior to experiencing a catastrophic failure.”

The plant currently runs on two coal boilers and two steamers. The new power plant will replace these four boilers with coal-fired ones.

Although this is the cheapest economically, it has the biggest environmental cost. With coal-fired power plants, increased emission of carbon, NOx and other harmful emissions come along with it.

And in a world of increasing need and declining dollars–for the things that matter–there seems to be little room to argue for quality over quantity.

“Without a major upgrade, both the educational and workforce development opportunities that support the state’s economic health are at risk,” the book stated.

The Atkinson Heat and Power Plant was built in 1964 and was meant to last 50 years, at best, and is overdue for a replacement.

The more time passes, the older the plant gets, and the worse the outcomes will be.

And it looks like we’re running out of band-aids.

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