Union College plans to build a $12 million cogeneration plant it said could cut campus carbon emissions by 40 percent or more, while saving the college $450,000 a year in heating and cooling costs.
A combination heat and power plant that would serve most of the buildings on the 130-acre urban campus, the cogen plant would also recycle waste heat to produce heat and chilled water that can be used year-round in buildings that require dehumidification, such as Schaffer Library and laboratories.
The plant would be the second of its kind for a Capital Region college, joining Albany Medical College, which is served by the $23 million Albany Medical Center cogeneration plant that went on line in 2013.
According to Union, the new plant would produce about 1.8 megawatts of electricity, cutting its reliance on power from National Grid by 82 percent in the winter and 74 percent in the summer. The natural gas plant would also increase efficiency over the current system by 58 to 80 percent, the college added.
“We are locally making power and generating steam far more efficiently than the traditional method,” said Marc Donovan, Union’s assistant director of facilities, who is spearheading the project. “Cogeneration traps waste and makes power.”
Union has also experienced a dramatic increase in its need for power with the addition of the Peter Irving Wold Center, the Wicker Wellness Center and the Henle Dance Studio, necessitating a new power system.
“We have had some demand problems,” Donovan said. “Our system is aging, and we are up against what National Grid could provide us.”
A portion of the plant will be covered by a grant of up to $2.4 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The remaining funds will come from a $40 million bond, but Union’s share would be repaid through $450,000 in annual energy savings expected to be realized by the new plant, the college added.
The plant would not only save the college some green, but meet its desire to be greener as part of a long-range sustainability plan. According to Union, college President Stephen Ainlay was among the first to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging in 2007 to reduce and greenhouse gas emissions on campus.
The new plant would cut Union’s carbon footprint by up to 42 percent, Donovan said.
“We are attacking this on many different levels,” Donovan said.” It’s not just about a cogen plant. It’s about everything we do here to get to carbon neutrality.”
Skidmore College recently unveiled a new solar array that will annually generate 2.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to meet 12 percent of Skidmore’s needs. Union did not have the option of going that route, Donovan said, because of its urban setting and lack of available space.
The cogeneration plant, which would be built on the east side of the existing boiler plant across from Messa Rink, still needs approval from the city of Schenectady. Construction is slated to begin in the spring, with completion targeted for 2016.