Michigan State University hopes to be off coal by the end of 2016

Michigan State University said April 8 that in a move that will reduce emissions at its T.B. Simon Power Plant as well as significantly advance its 2012 Energy Transition Plan, it is taking steps to stop burning coal by the end of 2016, with a majority of coal purchasing and burning ending in 2015.

“Sustainability is one of our guiding institutional principles,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “This represents a great opportunity for MSU to further reduce its environmental impact.”

Located on the south end of the campus in East Lansing, Mich., the power plant now burns natural gas, coal and biomass to produce steam that is used for heat and electricity. However, a confluence of changing energy costs, along with new federal emission rules, allowed MSU to stop burning coal in a financially viable way.

“Transitioning to natural gas as our sole fuel source gives us a cleaner, stable power supply moving forward,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant, which is the chief power provider to MSU’s 5,200-acre campus.

Currently, three of the four boilers at the power plant burn natural gas. The amount of coal burned at the plant already has been reduced by 65% since 2009-10. MSU examined the ability for the fourth boiler to burn natural gas. MSU determined it would cost less to restore the fourth boiler’s capability to burn natural gas (less than $1 million) versus investing in new technologies to meet the new EPA rules and continue burning coal ($4.5 million with a recurring annual cost of $100,000).

MSU has signed an agreement with Consumers Energy to build a substation supplying a facility for Rare Isotope Beams, when complete, with electricity. The substation also will allow the university to purchase additional electricity to allow its co-generation plant to operate at an optimal steam/electricity balance. Also, to advance toward its goal of eventual 100% renewable energy sourcing, MSU currently is investigating public-private partnership options to add renewable sources of power.

Michigan State University is one of a number of colleges and universities that in recent years has backed out completely or backed down their coal usage. The Sierra Club has a specific pressure campaign aimed at these institutions, which tend as a whole to be very environmentally minded.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.