Union to build cogeneration plant

Publication Date

The College will build a cogeneration plant that will dramatically reduce the College’s carbon footprint, ease demand on current aging systems and result in significant energy saving costs.

The combined heat and power plant will allow for the simultaneous production of electricity to power most of Union’s 130-acre campus. The plant will also recycle waste heat to produce heat and chilled water that can be used to provide dehumidification year-round, a critical need in buildings like Schaffer Library and laboratories with sensitive equipment.

Union currently obtains its electricity from National Grid. The cogeneration plant would produce approximately 1.8 megawatts of electricity, and provide 82 percent of the College’s power needs in winter and 74 percent in summer. The remaining power would continue to be purchased through National Grid.

Fueled by natural gas, the plant will consist of a turbine, a heat recovery steam generator, a gas compressor, an electrical fuel distribution system and an absorption chiller. It would increase the College’s heating and power efficiency needs from 58 percent to as much as 80 percent.

The use of a natural gas- powered cogeneration plant would reduce Union’s carbon footprint by as much 42 percent and move the College closer to its goal of carbon neutrality. Cogeneration reduces the carbon footprint by utilizing waste heat for both heating and cooling, but also by creating power and heat locally more efficiently than a traditional utility provider and boiler.

The plant will be built on the east side of the existing boiler plant near Facilities. The project needs the approval of the City of Schenectady; construction is scheduled to begin in the spring and be completed in 2016.

“This project is critical for the College and emphasizes our commitment toward achieving carbon neutrality,” said Marc Donovan, assistant director of Facilities. “It will give us the flexibility to provide simultaneous heating and cooling, while resulting in significant utility savings.”

The $12 million plant is supported by a grant of up to $2.4 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The remaining funds will come from a $40 million bond project the College undertook for campus improvements.

The money would be repaid through the $450,000 in annual energy-related savings the new plant is expected to generate.

The need for a cogeneration plant comes as the College’s electrical demands have increased dramatically in recent years with the addition of such new buildings as the Peter Irving Wold Center, the Wicker Wellness Center and the Henle Dance Studio, as well as the continuing need for dehumidification throughout campus.

Extensive renovations of older structures such as Lippman Hall and Karp Hall have also heightened the College’s electrical needs.

Future building projects would also create energy challenges.

In addition, a cogeneration plant would greatly enhance the College’s ability to deal with a campus emergency where power, heating and cooling supply might be compromised.

Sustainability is one of the key priorities of the College’s Strategic Plan.

In 2007, President Stephen Ainlay was among the first to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), pledging to formally work on reducing, and eventually eliminating, campus greenhouse gas emissions.