PSU changes to a cleaner heating fuel
PLYMOUTH — Plymouth State University has announced that it is converting from diesel fuel to compressed natural gas for its heat and hot water, which is something that will not only help the environment but save the school money.
According to PSU officials, the current fuel-oil fired cogeneration plant, located near Langdon Woods residence hall, will be retrofitted to a CNG fired thermal energy facility. Officials said that the savings could amount up to $500,000.
This is possible because the CNG distribution facilities are coming online around New England, with delivery trucks loaded with the fuel and driven to the plant at PSU and parked for several weeks while the tanks are emptied. Stephen Taksar, PSU vice president for finance and administration, stated that the conversion is part of a transitional energy strategy.
“This decision was made after a thorough review of several energy alternatives by our campus energy committee representing various segments of the campus community; our findings show converting to CNG now produces cost savings and significant environmental benefits,” Taksar said. “However, the long-term plan is to transition to biomass fuel in the future. We are convinced that ultimately biomass is the best strategy for thermal generation on campus because of the potential cost savings, availability of regional fuel, local economic benefits, and reduction in carbon emissions.”
Brian Eisenhaur, PSU’s director of environmental sustainability, explained that he is not only personally motivated because of the environmental benefits, but also professionally tasked to do so as part of the campus energy committee. The committee is an advisory group focused on both the financial and environmental aspects. He said that they are involved in purchasing fuels for long term projects like this, and that they are strongly committed to environmental sustainability.
Eisenhaur explained that the school has been involved in an international movement since 2007 when Sara Jayne Steen, PSU president, signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. There are over 1,000 schools involved around the world, and it entails that the universities and colleges are leaders of social change and should serve as models. He added that a public commitment has been made to be carbon neutral by 2015.
Eisenhaur said that in this type of project, the committee was tasked with balancing issues. While it is not perfect, he feels that it is the step in the right direction and will pay for itself quickly.
“What I want to stress is that this was not an easy decision,” said Eisenhaur. “There are definitely pros and cons that we recognized and it was very carefully approached. The decision was not just guided by money, but many different factors.”
The important factors, he said, was remaining strong in the commitment to sustainability while addressing financial concerns. As a state institution, he said that both are taken very seriously. This led them to examine thermal energy.
The fuel and infrastructure will provide heat and hot water to the campus through the central steam plant with district heat, with energy produced on the campus and kept within the campus. At this point in time because of financial costs, the compressed natural gas conversion will serve as an intermediary project prior to the long term plan of using biomass thermal energy.
Currently, the school burns diesel number six, which Eisenhaur called a dirty fuel that leaves a carbon footprint. It is also fairly expensive. While there are some concerns with fracking with the compressed natural gas, he said that it is an attractive alternative for the short term.
“I feel safe saying that it will pay for itself in less than a year,” said Eisenhaur. “We will also reduce our carbon footprint by 12 to 13 percent at the university because of the benefits of natural gas over diesel number six. The clear final benefit is emitting fewer pollutants with a cleaner burning fuel.”
He added that he wants to be very honest that they are well aware of concerns of fracking, but looking at sum total in what is going on in oil industry and these benefits, seems like the right thing to do for Plymouth State University at this time.
Eisenhaur noted that CNG technology is spreading rapidly and the fuel is produced in Canada.
“Most of our CNG fuel will be coming from gas transported from Canada which does not use fracking as an extraction method,” Eisenhauer said. “Our current fuel source is extremely polluting in both emissions and its production, so the benefits of the project clearly outweigh the benefits of the status quo.”