ESF Power Plant Saves Money and Reduces Carbon Footprint

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is saving over half a million dollars a year on heat and electricity with a high-performance combined-heat-and-power system (CHP) fueled by natural gas and wood pellets, and designed to capture waste energy for heating buildings.

In the last two fiscal years, ESF has saved $520,000 each year. At this rate, the CHP will pay for itself in another four years while supplying 60 percent of the heat for the campus and nearly 20 percent of the electricity.

“The CHP is a unique facility not replicated at many other universities. It is a key component that allowed us to achieve the highest level of LEED certification, LEED Platinum, for the Gateway Center – the building that houses the CHP,” said ESF Interim President David C. Amberg. “This facility is a unique educational asset for our students in sustainable energy management, who get experience in how to manage and run a state-of-the-art power plant.”

The Gateway Center houses space for conferences, events, exhibits, administrative offices and a café. It opened in 2013.

The CHP uses two 8,000-pound-per-hour steam boilers, one fired by natural gas while the other boiler is fired by hardwood pellets, a form of woody biomass that is a renewable natural resource. The steam goes through a turbine that generates electricity.

“We have three natural gas microturbines capable of producing 185 kilowatts of electricity and we recover the heat waste into our heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) and that steam goes out to campus,” said Joshua Arnold, director of energy management and utilities.

James Fletcher, assistant director of energy analysis, compared the cost of producing heat and power on campus to the price being paid for steam electricity.

“I subtracted the cost which is the natural gas that we burned, the wood pellets that we burned as well and the labor costs to run the system and that produced a net value of, on average, $520,000 for the last two fiscal years,” Fletcher explained.

“Our college is devoted to environmental programs and practicing what we teach,” Amberg said. “The CHP fits that mission by exploring new technologies to use renewable energy to provide needed heat and power while creating a carbon-neutral facility. On top of all that, the system demonstrates that building green can be financially rewarding.”

In addition to savings and efficiency, the CHP has reduced the campus carbon footprint by 24 percent. One of the reasons is that producing heat and power on campus eliminates “line loss.”

“I’m a former Niagara Mohawk/National Grid employee. It was always assumed that there was a 12 percent line loss on the wires (but) because we generate here on site we virtually eliminate all that,” said Fletcher.

Similarly, Fletcher explained, there’s an 11 percent line loss transporting steam. “So once again the lion’s share of that is avoided because we’re producing it here and the distance it has to travel is much shorter.”

Amberg credited former college President Cornelius B. Murphy Jr., who advocated for the CHP to be included in construction of the Gateway Center. “He had a vision, and he was right about the importance of the CHP component. Not only has it saved the college tremendously but it has decreased our carbon footprint and it serves as a living laboratory and training facility for students,” Amberg said.

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