UMass granted EPA award for Central Heating Plant

By Tom Barnes

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the University of Massachusetts with the 2011 Combined Heat and Power Energy Star award for its new Central Heating Plant, in an effort to recognize the reduced emissions and increased efficiency of the plant.

University spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said the University and the maintainers of the plant were “proud to be recognized, and proud to get a symbol of green technology up and running.”

Encouraging the use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP), EPA’s CHP Partnership is a voluntary program that works on all levels of the energy market, such as state and local governments, energy users and the energy industry itself to promote CHP use as a way to reduce environmental impacts of energy use. According to the EPA’s website, “The Energy Star CHP Award recognizes highly efficient CHP systems that reduce emissions and use at least 5 percent less fuel than comparable, state-of-the-art, separate heat and power generation.”

Completed in 2009 at a cost of $133 million, the Central Heating Plant is located just beyond the recreational athletic fields. Reducing greenhouse gases, its efficiency also decreased overall energy consumption by 21 percent since 2004, according to University figures. Fitzgibbons stated that the efficiency would save money for UMass, saying “it’s a big reason why [UMass] built it, as technology changed to allow for more efficient and cleaner energy production.”

The Central Heating Plant consists of a 10-megawatt solar combustion turbine, a heat recovery steam generator, a four-megawatt steam turbine and three natural gas boilers. The state-of-the-art plant has reduced campus-wide greenhouse gases by approximately 75 percent, according to a UMass press release. With the replacement of its almost 80-year-old coal-fired boilers, the Central Heating Plant is able to supply the University’s demand for heat and electricity. With 200 buildings and 10 million gross square feet of building space to provide heat and electricity, the University requires vast amounts of energy.

By combining thermal energy and electricity, the plant requires 18 percent less fuel than energy sources that process heat and power separately. In this way, it prevents 26,000 tons of carbon dioxide gas from polluting the atmosphere every year, according to the same release. The emissions equivalent would be to remove 4,600 passenger vehicles from the road.

The Central Heating Plant also includes another concept in reducing environmental impact besides its reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The plant utilizes 160,000 gallons of water in its day-to-day operations, but instead of using drinkable water, the plant was designed to use treated wastewater effluent.

“The idea of using treated wastewater effluent saves water for the town and campus, because instead of drawing drinking water from the town’s reservoirs, it uses waste-water from the nearby plant to process water into steam,” said Fitzgibbons.

Thus, Amherst’s reservoir does not have to put up with the strain of supplying both water for consumption and steam power for the plant.

The regional administrator of the EPA New England office, Curt Spalding, said in a press release of UMass’s achievement: “This combined technology not only conserves energy, but also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, helping to protect the health of New England citizens and our environment. EPA is proud to recognize the outstanding pollution reduction and energy efficiency qualities of this project.”

Fitzgibbons went on to say that the University is committed to lessening the campus’s environmental impact in the future, apart from the Central Heating Plant.

“There’s a campus-wide committee to look at environmental issues,” Fitzgibbons said, describing plans for “a reduced reliance on vehicles that use fossil-fuels, and constructing energy efficient buildings” He outlined the 10-year process of utilizing new technologies in lighting and shutting down systems to construct these buildings.

Fitzgibbons also cited other commitments by the campus to further reducing its environmental impact, such as the Franklin permaculture garden. In addition, he discussed “more environmentally friendly drainage, such as outside the Studio Arts building, in which plants clean the water running off the parking lots nearby.”

“It’s an ongoing process as we evaluate new technologies,” said Fitzgibbons.

Thomas Barnes can be reached at [email protected]