MSU ahead of schedule to eliminate use of coal by end of 2016
Why this matters
MSU is phasing out coal as an energy resource. MSU now runs on natural gas.
In a 2014 panel, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon announced that MSU’s T.B. Simon Power Plant would nearly eliminate the purchasing and burning of coal by the end of 2015. As part of MSU’s 2012 "Energy Transition Plan," this would be the first step in a goal to completely eliminate coal use by the end of 2016.
"What we’re saying today is that we don’t simply have a set of aspirations,” Simon said during the panel. “We have a strategy for getting there.”
President Simon’s address can be watched in full here.
However, the end of coal at MSU might come faster than planned. Coal purchasing has ended, and the goal of eliminating coal use completely should be met with more than a half year to spare.
Bob Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the power and water division of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, said the final deliveries of coal ended in August 2015 and the contracts were not renewed. The plant’s coal inventory has been reduced to about 9,000 tons.
“The large piles that people are used to seeing are gone, those are consumed,” Ellerhorst said. “Today, we’re 100 percent gas. ... We’re going to burn that last inventory down in January in February. It should all be gone by April 1.”
The gradual switch to natural gas has had a significant environmental impact. Completely phasing out coal should further decrease emissions, according to the Energy Transition Plan. Natural gas emits about 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal.
The plan states the gradual shift towards natural gas contributed to a 9 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2009 and 2010.
It's now policy at the plant to not "fuel switch," although the facility is capable of it. The switch to 100 percent natural gas has the unfortunate side effect of ending the burning of biofuels as a renewable energy source at MSU, which Ellerhorst said is only compatible with coal use. Ellerhorst said biofuel was last used around June 2015.
“The policy decision was to stop burning solid fuel, so there is no more biofuel program," Ellerhorst said. "We’re a non-solid fuel plant now."
Biofuel and other renewable energy sources, however, are currently more expensive as an energy source than non-renewable products, which hinders their implementation.
“Natural gas prices having been falling, so if we had not made that policy, we’d be burning natural gas (instead of coal) anyway,” Ellerhorst said.
While biofuel might be gone, MSU continues to explore renewable energy options. An "anaerobic digester," which breaks down organic waste to produce energy, has been fully functional since 2013. The Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research is heated and cooled entirely by geothermal energy, and construction of five solar carport locations on campus is scheduled for 2016.
"The power purchase agreement that we have with the third party for the solar (energy) is more than the cost of making the energy ourselves," Ellerhorst said. "However, the price that’s agreed to is a fixed price (for) 20 years, (so) there’s no inflation."
According to the Energy Transition Plan, MSU hopes to have 25 percent of energy on campus be renewable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2020, en route to a planned 40 percent renewable energy and 65 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
For more information on MSU’s energy and conservation initiatives, visit the Sustainability website here.