UAF will build new power plant

Josh Hartman / Sun Star

Just a few hundred feet from the Ben J. Atkinson building, UAF’s current heat and power plant, is the site for the construction of a new heat and power plant. The new plant will be

This is a rendering of the new combined heat and power plant that is planned to be operational in the winter of 2018. The plant is going to be built just a few hundred feet from the Ben J. Atkinson building, the current heat and power plant. - Josh Hartman / Sun Star

This is a rendering of the new combined heat and power plant that is planned to be operational in the winter of 2018. The plant is going to be built just a few hundred feet from the Ben J. Atkinson building, the current heat and power plant. – Josh Hartman / Sun Star

the third in UAF history.

The new plant is being built because the campus demand for energy has outgrown the supply that the current boilers can produce, according to Chilkoot Ward, director of utilities. Additionally, the main boilers are the same ones that were built in 1964 and they are at risk of failure, Mike Ruckhaus, senior project manager for the new plant said.

“We are careful not to say that the sky is falling down, but every subsequent year creates a higher risk of catastrophic failure,” Ruckhaus said.

Additionally, with the newer technology the new plant will use 10 percent less coal to produce the same amount of energy and will significantly reduce major pollutants, according to Ruckhaus.

Construction for the plant will start in the spring of 2015 and is projected to end in the winter of 2018.

The combined heat and power plant is unique because the steam that is used to turn the turbines (which produce electricity) is also piped to buildings around campus to provide heat. This process increases the efficiency of the system by 30 percent over normal power plants.

“You burn fuel once, then make two products,” Ward said.

The new plant will cost $245 million to build. The funds for this project are coming from a combination of capital funding, state appropriation and bond funding.

The original projected cost for construction was $50 million over the $245 million budget. In order to bring the construction back within the budget some changes were made, including deleting the administration wing, deleting the parts storage warehouse and changing from two smaller boilers to one larger boiler.

The current plant and boilers will still remain available for emergency power and back up for the new plant.

“Basically the only thing we’re going to shut down [from the current plant] is what was originally built in 1964,” Ward said.

Not all of the power comes from the Atkinson Building.

“We buy power from the local utility when it makes economic sense,” Ward said.

The plant needs to buy power during the two weeks that it shuts down for maintenance every year. 

The current heat and power plant went under construction in 1962 and was completed in 1964. The old power plant was located in the lower levels of the Rasmussen Library.

The thick concrete walls are all that is left from the UAF’s first power plant, according to Ruckhaus.  “It gets modified about every eight years,” Ward said.

In Dec. 1998, a tube in one of the original boilers burst, filling the plant with steam which shattered windows and cut off power and heat from the campus.

The university had to get help from the Golden Valley Electric Association to get alternate boilers running to return heat and power to the campus.

Also In 1998, the University of Alaska Board of Regents approved the construction of an experimental project that involved manufacturing a coal-water mixture and burning that substance in a special boiler. The funds for this project came from the Department of Energy to study the new fuel.

Due to lack of funding the project was not completed. Coal-water fuel was manufactured in North Dakota and burned in Wisconsin in a plant similar to the one that was being built at UAF, the Department of Energy got data from that project.

The fuel was never used at UAF, Ruckhaus said.

The decision to not continue the coal-water fuel project was not related to the failure of the piping in Dec. 1998, according to Ruckhaus.

Future experimental sources of energy are not out of the question though. The plant has an open dialogue with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power to test new technologies and experiment, according to Ruckhaus.

The UAF facilities services web page features data about all the energy and heat produced by the plant. These metrics are updated every minute.

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