U. takes a giant step toward a greener campus

New cogeneration system will greatly reduce its pollution
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Cutting the ribbon Tuesday at the University of Utah's new cogeneration power plant, President Michael Young marked Earth Day by pledging to put the U. on a course toward "climate neutrality."

Young also signed a facsimile of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, joining 500 schools in a promise to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading culprit behind climate change.

"We are making sustainability a core part of our educational and research missions," Young said. "Real sustainability is a function of large projects, like this one, but also of small acts like picking up that piece of paper and putting it into a recycle bin."

The $18 million retrofit at the U.'s heating plant, which will reduce annual carbon emissions by 63,000 tons by using waste heat from power generation to heat buildings, will help the U. meet the obligations in the climate commitment, Young said. A year ago, presidents of Westminster College, Utah State University and Weber State University signed the pledge.

The U. took longer to embrace the commitment because the size of the 1,500-acre campus of 300 buildings made it difficult to assess the feasibility of truly reducing its carbon footprint, said Craig Forster, who heads the U.'s Office of Sustainability.

"I feel strongly that when we sign things, that we intend to do them," Young said. "As we received advice, it was clear this was something we wanted to do, but were also committed to do."

Young also announced that the sustainability program, launched as a pilot last year, will become permanent. His signature on the presidents' commitment came a week after his sustainability advisory panel recommended joining it. In fact, the panel found that the U. was already on its way to achieving some of the commitment's goals.

The panel estimated the U. released more than 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, and outlined steps to cut that output through electricity conservation measures, promoting use of public transit, and retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient mechanical systems and fixtures. The U. could spare the atmosphere 121,501 tons a year just by consolidating after-hour events and classes in a few buildings and by other smart scheduling measures, Forster said.

Already the U. covers 13 percent of its electrical use through wind power purchases.

Student-driven initiatives, such as 7,500 blue recycle bins, have made a difference by reducing the U.'s paper waste stream by more than one-third. Prior to Young's administration, the U. was already reaping a hefty energy savings through a $44 million retrofit program to upgrade and mechanical systems in 80 buildings. Those upgrades, installed between 1998 and 2002, save about $4 million a year.

What is cogeneration?

* The U. has replaced two 1960s-era boilers, which once burned coal to heat campus buildings, with a gas-fired turbine to generate electricity.

* Waste heat from the Taurus 70 turbine, which will begin running in about two months, will pass through a heat exchanger to warm water for the lower campus' heating system - a network of 17 miles of pipe serving 150 buildings on the lower campus. The new turbine can deliver 1 million BTUs, which exceeds the U.'s current heating needs, project manager Frank Gallardo said.

* Saving up to $600,000 a year in energy costs, the university is expected to recoup the cost of the $18 million upgrade in 13 years, said the U.'s sustainability director Craig Forster.

* The new cogeneration plant will supply 10 percent of the campus' electrical needs. That translates into 52,000 kilowatt hours of coal-generated electricity - which emits twice as much carbon as natural gas - the U. will not have to buy from Rocky Mountain Power.