Central Power Plant project moves ahead, expected to reduce emissions


Plans are moving forward for the expansion at the University of Michigan’s Central Power Plant to make room for new equipment that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly on campus.

A 12,000-square-foot addition to the power plant is being built to house a 15-megawatt combustion turbine that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 80,000 metric tons per year, lowering emission levels approximately halfway toward the university’s 2025 sustainability goal.

The Board of Regents approved the schematic design and construction schedule for the project on Thursday during its monthly meeting. Regents approved the $80 million project and the appointment of Black & Veatch as the architectural firm in March.

“Our targeted greenhouse gas emissions reduction is an ambitious goal and this project marks a significant step in the right direction as well as providing a sound financial projection for the university,” says Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

The Central Power Plant provides heat and power to most Central and Medical campus buildings.

First constructed in 1915, it was converted from coal to natural gas as a primary fuel in the 1960s to operate more efficiently. The current cogeneration system uses steam to heat buildings and waste steam to generate electricity, resulting in an overall efficiency of 80 percent.

The addition of the turbine to the Central Power Plant was among the efforts recommended to President Mark Schlissel to improve progress toward the university’s sustainability goals, specifically the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2025.

The avoidance in emissions is made possible through the onsite cogeneration technology that produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than regional power sources.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has approved the required air emission permit and the project will incorporate all appropriate pollution control technologies.

Project funding will be provided from utility resources.

The project will result in the loss of approximately eight business and service parking spaces.

The project is expected to provide an average of 130 on-site construction jobs.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in the winter of 2021.



  1. Noah Weaverdyck
    on October 30, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    A few questions that it would have been nice for author to address:

    (1) Why is the estimated 80k MTCO2e reduction so much lower than the original proposal (c.f. https://record.umich.edu/articles/university-invests-major-campus-sustainability-efforts)

    (2) The latest science has indicated that natural gas (NG) actually has far higher emissions than is commonly estimated by the EPA. This is due to drastic and consistent underestimation of leakage during extraction, distribution and transportation of NG, which “substantially erode the potential climate benefits of natural gas use” [1]. It’s been known for several years that total methane emissions are actually conservatively ~25-75% higher than what is commonly assumed for accounting purposes [2].
    This means that even the smaller savings claimed by U-M is actually a form of funny accounting — a significant portion of that “savings” is just shifting the emissions to the extraction and distribution side and thus not counted. Unfortunately methane is methane and the climate doesn’t care where it comes from. Indeed, the climate forcing effect of methane emissions across the supply chain are estimated to be comparable to those from the final combustion of it [1]. We have no time for funny accounting given the speed at which we need to reduce our *real* emissions.

    (3) Given that the IPCC’s latest report stated in stark terms how the world must reach carbon neutrality (of *all* scopes) by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change [3], how does U-M’s efforts compare to a scientifically-well founded trajectory to meet this goal?

    Given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in with global climate change, it is absolutely crucial that any reporting on fossil fuel projects takes a very hard look at the claims made, and reports on the context in which these projects are being undertaken.
    When doing so, it becomes clear that it is very difficult to justify the investment in further fossil fuel infrastructure without a very clear path for how it will be quickly phased out.

    If U-M isn’t going to lead on real, substantive climate action, then I’m not sure where to look. It gets depressing.

    [1] Alvarez et al., (2018) Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain, Science, 363
    [2] Brandt et al., (2014) Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems, Science, 341
    [3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (2018), GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5 °C: Summary for Policymakers

  2. Noah Weaverdyck
    on October 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

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