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Expanded Utility Plant to Power UC's Future

Date: April 10, 2001
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Archive: General News

Superpower. That's what Facilities Management aims to give the campus community by constructing Phase II of the Central Utility Plant (CUP), located on Short Vine Street in Corryville.

More precisely, the expansion -- to begin in September and set for completion in spring 2004 -- is aimed at providing campus with less costly, more efficient, reliable heating, cooling, and electricity no matter what happens to the volatile public utility market. When the expanded plant is operational, UC expects to see savings of $8 million a year in utility costs.

image of expanded plant

According to Everett Wolverton, associate director, Facilities Management, more and more public institutions and private industry - universities, hospitals, high schools, malls - are seeking to provide for all or at least part of their own energy needs, relying less on public utilities.

"We have more individual producers and users, and we'll have more. Universities are going whole-hog on this for reasons of reliability and cost savings. A university like UC simply cannot be without power without risking medical and other forms of research. We're fortunate that we have the infrastructure and the personnel to manage our own power unlike many businesses," he said.

Wolverton added that even small businesses are seeking to provide for some of their own energy needs with fuel cells and micro-turbines. He said, "It's attractive because it's economically justified."

The same is true for UC. By producing 90 percent of the university's electricity demands, the expanded CUP will save $8 million annually that is now paid to Cinergy Corp. The renovated facility will also save millions annually in terms of heating and cooling costs associated with the winter heating and the summer cooling of UC's 10 million square feet.

The expansion of UC's Central Utility Plant will add 33,000 square feet to the north side of the existing plant, which currently comprises 18,000 square feet. The expansion will mean new cooling towers, and it will bring utility generators and chillers formerly housed on west campus to one central location. So, in the end, the new CUP will house steam turbine generators, two combustion turbines, two gas-fueled chillers, a switch gear to distribute electrical power as well as space that may eventually house two additional chillers.

The University of Cincinnati Central Utility Plant on Short Vine Street was conceived in the 1980s, when campus expansion required additional steam-generating capacity to meet heating needs. Initial plans, presented to the community in 1990, were for a two-phase project. Phase I would build additional steam-generating capacity for the University and the surrounding area hospitals, providing heat to buildings on campus and off. Phase II, now slated for construction, would build additional utilities through a variety of options, including cogeneration. The expansion would create a facility that would serve the utility needs of both the East and West campuses in the most economical manner.

Phase I was completed in 1992 and has provided efficient and reliable utilities to the University campus as well as to external customers such as University Hospital, Children's Hospital, Shriners Burns Institute and Veterans Administration Hospital.

In 1996, the University began developing a more detailed plan for Phase II. Continued redevelopment of the campus, recent rising energy prices and deregulation have made the need for the second phase of the project more critical than ever, and in 2001, the University decided to move forward with construction.

Early Phase II plans showed cooling equipment and chillers, with a small retail strip along the east side of the facility. Restrictions in size, layout and parking made the retail portion of the development unfeasible. Instead, the University will use the space for cogeneration equipment. The cogeneration system will provide increased energy stability for the campus and the plant's external customers.

The plant as it stands in 2001 encompasses approximately one-quarter of an acre on the University's property bounded by Short Vine Street, Glendora Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive. Plans for Phase II will expand the facility size to approximately three-quarters of an acre, as originally presented in 1990. The property line will not change.

Phase II will add electricity-generating equipment and additional cooling capacity, along with the required support materials. The energy will be generated at a cost of approximately 3 cents per kilowatt, compared with 5 cents per kilowatt the University currently is paying.

Phase II will work by using natural gas to fuel a combustion turbine. The turbine will drive an electric generator, and a recovery boiler will use the heat from the turbine to make steam. The steam will serve the heating needs of the campus. Chillers and cooling equipment will generate chilled water used for air conditioning campus buildings.

Plant emissions will meet EPA standards. Additionally, noise-generating equipment will be enclosed to make the facility as quiet as possible.

When the new plant is online, UC will be able to meet almost all (90 percent) of its own electricity needs reliably and efficiently. In fact, UC's Facilities Management has repeatedly won state and national awards for its past fuel-efficiency practices. For instance, last year, Facilities Management received state and professional awards for its "Peak Load Management Project" that specifically addressed air conditioning and electricity energy savings because electricity is the university's largest energy expense. Electricity powers the enormous water chillers used for air conditioning all of UC's east and west campus buildings. UC cools its storage tank water at night when rates are cheaper. The chilled water is then released during the day when demand is at peak.

Facilities Management will continue these efficient practices in the new plant. For instance, waste-heat recovery will meet much of UC's electricity needs. Waste-heat refers to the heat that utility machinery (like turbines and generators) gives off when in operation. This "waste" heat can be allowed to dissipate or it can be recovered for reuse. (During America's energy-rich days, it was almost uniformly allowed to dissipate throughout the utility industry.) Now, however, at CUP, the waste heat will be converted to steam to provide UC's electricity or other steam requirements.

The $70.6 million CUP expansion, designed by architects Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., will not infringe on UC's Corryville neighbors with businesses and homes along Short Vine. In terms of space, the expansion will only cost a small UC-owned gravel parking lot adjacent to the existing power plant. A green space with benches adjacent to that lot will not be affected and will remain untouched.

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