UAF announces plans for a new power plant

Lex Treinen/Sun Star Reporter
February 5, 2013

This powerplant photographed on January 29, 2013 is currently a part of UAF and a new university powerplant is scheduled to be constructed soon. David Spindler/Sun Star

This powerplant is currently a part of UAF and a new university powerplant is scheduled to be constructed soon. David Spindler/Sun Star

While most students don’t think twice about where their electricity comes from, it might scare them to know that they are relying on heat and power from a power plant that has outlived its life-expectancy. So UAF administrators are working on plans to replace the university’s half-century old power plant in the coming years.

Senior Project Manager Michael Ruckhaus said that his team recently completed a preliminary design and cost estimate for a new, coal-fired power plant to be built within the next few years.

UAF submitted a $22 million request to the state legislature to design the actual plant. Ruckhaus expects to get approval before the end of the legislative session in April. Based on preliminary designs, the new plant will cost around $245 million. Once a final cost is worked out, the university will ask the legislature for funding.

The current power plant was built in 1962, which makes it due for a replacement after an expected life span of 50 years. The plant uses technology that has existed since the 1890s, according to Ruckhaus, though with a few modifications.

The new plant will use a circulating fluidized bed boiler, in which the combustion bed is 80 feet tall. The current plant uses stoker technology in which the coal is conveyed mechanically on a flat bed, which makes filtering pollutants more difficult. The plant will also be injected with limestone to absorb pollutants.

The technology will be about 10 percent more efficient, according to Ruckhaus. Ruckhaus said that the university has submitted an application to the EPA “that fulfills all of the requirements” for air quality standards that he expects will be approved after eight to 12 months after a public comment period.

In a presentation about sustainability on campus last Tuesday, Chancellor Brian Rogers said that the current plant needs to be replaced soon. “If [the plant] breaks down at minus 30, this university goes out of business,” Rogers said.

The university currently spends about $8 million on energy. Though the university spends only 45 percent of its budget on coal, coal accounts for 80 percent of the energy produced, since the university buys additional energy from the local energy association, GVEA at a much higher cost than what is produced on site. Chancellor Rogers said that electricity produced on site costs about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour while GVEA energy costs about 22 cents.

The new power plant would be able to meet the university’s growing energy demand and therefore reduce the need to compensate by buying the expensive GVEA energy.

Rogers said that the new power plant would cost about the same to feed accounting for increased energy demand, but would significantly reduce emissions of various pollutants, such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxides and sulfur dioxides, though carbon dioxide emissions would remain constant.

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