Power to the Plant: Expiration date reached (part 1 of 4 series)

Kaz Alvarez/ Sun Star Reporter

April 15, 2014


The University of Alaska Fairbanks is committed to providing $50 million to upgrade the combined heat and power plant but waits for $195 million to come from the legislature.

The coal-fired power plant housed within the Atkinson Heat and Power Plant building provides heat and electricity for UAF, which has 3 million square feet of building space, and has done so since 1964. At a time when nuclear power was becoming a possibility, the Board of Regents chose to put $3.5 million toward building a new coal-fired generating plant in 1963. The upgrade was built next to the train tracks where it could easily access coal brought in on the train system.

The current power plant is an updated version of what was built in 1963. The renovations came about after an old coal-fired boiler tube ruptured and filled the building with steam. All operations were shut down for a full 12 hours in the middle of December, 1998, while heat and power was supplied to the university by Golden Valley Electric Association.

Upgrades have been made steadily since the failure to replace decades old machines. Large-scale repairs and equipment replacements were documented in 2002 and 2006. Efforts are now being made to build a completely new power plant as was done in 1963.

According to the most recent UAF Power Use This Week report provided by Facilities Services, UAF consumes 169 megawatts of power every day. UAF provides the majority of this energy through their power plant but still needs to pull energy from GVEA. The amount of energy received from GVEA is generally no more than a third of the energy supplied by the power plant itself.

The energy pulled from GVEA is strictly for electricity and cannot provide for the heating needs of UAF.

A report made by Associate Vice President of the University of Alaska Chris Christensen during 2013 states that the two main coal boilers installed in 1963 were estimated to have a life of 50 years. While there are two diesel boilers as a backup plan, long-term use of them would cripple the budget of the entire UA system.

Christensen’s report states that a long-term failure of the combined heat and power plant would result in a tripled yearly energy cost for the entire UA system.

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