OU Scrapping Lausche Replacement Project

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The Ohio University Board of Trustees will be presented with a list of proposed energy infrastructure projects this week that would take the place of the previously approved Lausche Combined Heating and Power Plant project.

Although some student groups are crediting their protests regarding OU's use of fossil fuels for the change in plans, OU says the change is due to unforeseen infrastructure challenges, construction costs and changing energy markets.

OU has committed to phasing out the use of coal as an energy source at the Lausche Heating Plant, and in early 2013 the university's board approved design of a replacement natural-gas power plant. The design was slated to be complete by this fall with construction being finished in late 2016.

The Lausche Heating Plant, located off Factory Street on the western portion of campus, was built in 1967 and supplies heat to all OU buildings on the Athens campus. It's been said the plant will reach the end of its life expectancy in 2016.

However, the OU administration is now requesting trustee approval to develop a utility master plan as part of an energy infrastructure projects initiative. The initiative is expected to cost $79 million and include $1.1 million for the master plan, $34.4 million for chilled water system upgrades (including construction of a new chilled water plant east of Richland Avenue), $18.5 million in electric improvements and $25 million in steam production upgrades at Lausche.

“Ohio University has changed its strategy on energy needs and is embarking on a series of projects called the Energy Infrastructure Projects Initiative,” Joe Lalley, senior associate vice president for Information Technologies and Administrative Services, wrote in an email to The Messenger. “Changing energy markets, a better understanding of construction costs and infrastructure challenges for a combined heating and power plant have led us to change the scope of what has, until now, been referred to as the Lausche Combined Heating and Power Plant project.”

Lalley said the Lausche project will be replaced with a series of of projects that will: address critical energy infrastructure needs; improve energy conservation; increase reliability and flexibility; meet institutional objectives and commitments; make steady progress towards carbon neutrality by 2075; and comply with regulations.

“The proposal is the result of several months of analysis. The June board meeting is the earliest available meeting for board action on the first of the projects, a utility master plan," Lalley said. "An outcome of this initiative is to meet the university internal commitment to stop burning coal in 2015 and meet the EPA Maximum Achievable Control Technology regulatory requirements by Jan. 1, 2016.”

OU's current capital improvement plan allocates $85 million for Lausche, chilled water expansion and upgrades to the South Green Chilled Water Plant.

"If we are successful in holding to this estimate, excess funds may be available for other uses," wrote OU Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding in a memo to the trustees dated June 3.

According to Golding’s memo, the utility master plan will prepare planning documents for “the repair, modification and capacity additions to the Ohio University energy systems.” He further states that OU’s energy systems are aged and in need of capital renewal; undersized relative to OU’s growth projections; not laid out to meet the reliability demands of a large, modern university; and under stress from environmental requirements.

Golding wrote that primary production of steam for the Athens campus will remain at Lausche because of the current steam infrastructure. He also stated that natural gas will remain the primary energy source to meet the university’s climate commitment goals by 2016, and that OU will construct a new facility for the production of chilled water east of Richland. OU cools its facilities using chilled water.

One of the reasons to change the scope of the Lausche project is due to construction costs. The project had a budget of $70 million, but after sending out requests for proposals, the university learned the project would cost around $94 million. It was also determined that there is an immediate need to upgrade the university’s chiller capacity and electrical system to support co-generation. OU says that American Electric Power is splitting off its generation assets and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has proposed alteration of the market structure.

OU plans to stop using coal by next summer as a source of fuel.

The OU Board of Trustees will meet at OU’s Eastern Campus in St. Clairsville on Thursday and Friday. The board will be asked to approve creation of the utility master plan. The other energy projects will be presented to the board over the next few years.