OU To Burn Only Natural Gas For Next Five Months

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For the next five months, Ohio University's Lausche Heating Plant will operate entirely on natural gas.

An OU spokesperson said the university was able to secure a large amount of the fuel, thanks to the low-cost of natural gas caused by the mild winter.  

"We can guarantee the price for 55 percent of our gas needs and purchase the rest on the open market as needed during the summer," said Mike Gebeke, executive director of facilities management.

He added that the cost during the summer will be lower than the blocks of gas purchased in the spring.

"This led to the idea that we could burn gas to power the plant over the summer for less than the cost of burning coal. This is the first time in the history of Lausche that this has been possible," Gebeke said.

Tim Strissel, OU director of energy management, said the university has always burned natural gas, but it only accounted for about 15 percent of the fuel used.  

The five months will also serve as a pilot for the university's eventual full conversion to natural gas, estimated to happen in 2015.

The spokesperson said this is not only a test for the entire Athens campus steam system, but for the university's two natural gas boilers. If they perform well during the test, they will not need to be replaced during the heating plant's full conversion to natural gas in later years.

If the five months are a success and natural gas prices remain low, the university could extend the test by two months. All data collected from the test will be made available to the public.

"The data will be shared so everyone can learn of the plant condition assessments and overall performance and see new opportunities," said Strissel. "I believe Ohio University will see the price gap of steam plant operation in 100 percent natural gas fuel mode is narrower than previously thought."