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Students, residents invited to tour T.B. Simon Power Plant

April 1, 2014

It is springtime in Michigan and though we are out of the wintery woods, warmer weather begins to nag at one constant in the lives of residents: energy consumption.

On Tuesday afternoon, the T.B. Simon Power Plant invited residents and MSU students to join the team for an in-depth tour of the plant, indoors and out. Team members presented data pertaining to the energy usage during this past winter.

Although they could make no promises about what the future will look like, the employees described the renewable energy sources and cost-effective resources they have been trying out and researching.

Director of Utilities Robert Ellerhorst said the plant is slowly increasing their usage of renewable resources such as biofuel, wind power and solar power. The plant is utilizing biofuel, though this is only on a small scale because biofuel is not easy to find on the market and costs three times the amount coal does.

“We’re very committed to it ... but we’ll not veer from making sure it’s gonna be safe, reliable and that we can maintain the capacity to be able to meet the demands that campus needs,” Ellerhorst said.

Right now, biofuel makes up 1 percent of the fuel input the plant uses.

“It’s gradually increasing,” Ellerhorst said. “We should be able to get the plant to about 3 percent biofuel with what we know right now and materials.”

The plant strives to limit their use of coal as fuel and for the past three years, their primary fuel has been natural gas, which is a nonrenewable resource.

The tour was preceded by an informative presentation on the functionality of the plant, the processes it undergoes daily and the means by which they provide heating and cooling for everyone on campus.

Visitors donned safety glasses, closed-toed shoes and transmitters equipped with headphones through which the tour guide could be heard over the bombardment of sounds emitted within the plant.

The tour, which was part of the MSU Science Festival taking place this week, provided an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the power plant.

Graduate student Jesse Traub said he was impressed by the immense size of the machinery at the power plant. Some boilers span the entire height of the building, which is roughly seven stories tall.

Traub said the aesthetics of the industrial, gritty plant intrigued him, but he was more concerned about where the energy he uses begins.

“I’ve always been interested in knowing where my energy comes from,” Traub said. “It’s easy to go through life without knowing where everything you use came from.”

Post doctoral researcher Sean Weise said it’s important to understand how energy is produced because it is one of the largest environmental challenges humans face. He said learning about how the plant functions plays a part in that challenge.

“I took away a very positive impression that MSU is working hard toward really utilizing renewable energy,” Weise said.


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