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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, June 13, 2024

Construction on new, more efficient energy plant begins

The central heating facility as seen on Sunday, March 22. Construction on a new Central Energy Plant (CEP) is currently underway.

Tufts has begun construction on a new Central Energy Plant (CEP), which will use high-efficiency cogeneration technology and will be located beside the existing one next to Dowling Hall.

According to Lauren Martin, communications specialist at the Office of Sustainability, the 2013 Campus Sustainability Report outlined sustainability goals for Tufts in the three areas with the greatest environmental impact: energy and emissions, waste management and water.

The university realized that it needed to look thoroughly at the energy situation on campus, Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder said. She added that the university commissioned an energy master plan which featured three recommendations for improving the areas highlighted in the original report.

According to Snyder, the plan recommended that the university pursue a comprehensive energy metering system, a central energy plant and a central chilled water plant. The new CEP will address the last two of the three recommendations by using natural gas to produce steam alongside electricity, Snyder noted.

According to Director of University Energy Programs Randy Preston, the CEP will not only generate electricity for the Medford/Somerville campus, but will also generate steam for heating and chilled water for cooling.

“Through cogeneration, the heat waste derived from energy production will be harnessed and used for heating and cooling purposes on campus,” Betsy Byrum, education and outreach coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, told the Daily in an email. “This is not only more efficient, but will also lead to a reduction in the university’s greenhouse gas emissions, thus moving Tufts toward its goal of reducing emissions by 10 to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”

“It’s an opportune time for Tufts to make that kind of investment,” Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said, adding that otherwise the current central energy plant would need to be repaired.

Snyder explained that the current energy plant was built in the early 1960s and had been nearing the end of its useful life. According to Snyder, it has a lot of facility liabilities, and at least one of its boilers urgently needs to be replaced.

“We realized that the university could pay itself back for its additional commitment within about 10 years,” Snyder explained. “The overall cost is about 46 million dollars, and we project savings of between three and four million dollars a year. It became really clear that this was a good investment.”

Preston added that the CEP's on-site energy generation will reduce the university's greenhouse gas emissions by about 12 percent. “When you buy power off the grid, it’s not very efficient," he said. "There’s a lot of line losses between where it’s generated and here … We’re generating our electricity right next to where it’s being used, so there’re not big transmission losses.”

Preston added that the CEP is also more efficient at generating energy than many plants that are currently being used.

“The overall plant is more efficient, because we’re not only getting power out of this, we’re also getting heat as a by-product of it," Preston said. "Whereas a typical power plant throws that extra heat away, we’re going to use it to heat buildings or to cool buildings.”

The CEP would produce up to 80-90 percent of the electrical requirements of the Medford/Somerville campus, Snyder said. Preston explained that it would be able to cover the campus’ energy load during 80 percent of the year.

As a central chilled water plant, the CEP would also produce chilled water and distribute it to buildings around campus for air conditioning purposes, according to Snyder. This would replace window air conditioners, which are not very efficient, Preston said.

Snyder added that another reason for building the new CEP is that Tufts is also building a new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC), a very intensive 80,000 square foot wet lab attached to Anderson and Robinson Halls.

“By using the money that we would’ve spent just to service the science building, we’re able to leverage a lot more service to benefit the whole campus [with] the [CEP],” Snyder said. “So there was an incremental additional cost, but if you took the cost of … fixing the [current energy plant] and the cost of providing chilled water and energy to the new science complex, you ended up saying, ‘Well, it’s crazy not to do a central plant.’”

Snyder and Preston both explained that the CEP will also serve as a resiliency asset, meaning the campus will not be subject to power outages like it has been in the past.

“[The campus] is much more likely to have electrical outages than natural gas service interruptions,” Snyder said.

“If we lose the grid [in an emergency situation] we should be able to ride through that and continue to operate and continue to supply heat and power to the campus, or if we get knocked offline we’d be able to restart hopefully fairly quickly,” Preston added.

Snyder said that because the CEP will be supplying chilled water to the new SEC building, the construction process has been accelerated.

“We'd like to have the new [CEP] functional in about 18 months, which is pretty aggressive, so it will be built with an accelerated phased construction methodology,” she said. “Instead of having a linear process, you might have activities going on simultaneously … you may have accelerated procurements.”

Some site preparation work was done before winter, according to Snyder, but because of the the multiple major snowstorms, the actual construction was delayed by a few weeks.

“Our hope is to get the foundation built and the steel erected and the brick and glass … envelope -- the skin of the building -- completed, so that next winter it’ll be a fully-enclosed interior space, and then the equipment and all of the piping and that kind of stuff can be installed with protection from the weather,” she said. “[It] can be quite a disruptive process, so we’re looking very carefully at the construction schedule so that we can time most of the work that’s going to happen ... to occur between commencement and the fall.”

Preston estimates that the CEP will be operational or nearly operational by the end of summer 2016.

According to Snyder, the current plant can then be decommissioned and demolished, and its location can become a future development site for the university.

Campbell explained that because the new CEP uses much more sophisticated technology than the current one, Tufts will need to hire experts to run it. According to Snyder, the university is currently in the process of selecting these experts and is looking at companies that run power plants in other places.

Snyder added that the CEP will feature a glass wall so passersby on Boston Ave. can see what is happening inside the building.

“We want to make sustainability visible, and this building is an important part of that,” Snyder said. “We’re hoping to have some interpretive elements like an electronic reader board display saying how much gas we’re using, how much electricity we’re producing, how many greenhouse gas emissions we’re reducing.”

“My hope is that we can work with the [Office of Sustainability] to help communicate how powerful this [CEP] is for the university,” Snyder added.

Martin noted that the glass wall will help support a culture of sustainability on campus.

“The glass façade … will allow people to see inside the facility, so that will give them some insight into how things work, so it’s a great way to educate the campus and the surrounding community about important sustainability issues, and it will also help create a strong culture of sustainability and environmental awareness on campus,” Martin said.

Preston added that the CEP could provide educational opportunities for students.

“We’d like to take classes through on tours and maybe provide data from some of the machines … that could be used in homework sets or things like that for engineering students,” he said. “During the construction process, there will be a lot of things on display … that students may be studying," he added, using civil engineers as an example.