that exceeded its aging utility service
capacity, which operated on technology developed in the 1890s. No significant utilities investment had been
made since 1999. As a result, it developed a campus utilities development
plan in 2006, which was followed by
a series of reports and discussions
with local and state political bodies.
It culminated in the state funding $3
million for a preliminary engineering
study to evaluate technology and fuel
options, and the effort was awarded to
and performed by GLHN Engineers in
THE COAL DECISION
Engineers started their analysis with
the big picture: Fuel supply and emissions. The mission was to produce energy and more of it; yet because Fairbanks is in a valley clouded with wood
smoke from homes and businesses, the
area was classified as a non-attainment
area for PM2.5 under EPA standards.
UAF needed a larger plant that produced more energy for future campus
expansion but couldn’t exceed its current emissions level. It would need a
solution with emissions characteristics
that were far lower than the existing
equipment could accommodate.
Temperatures in Fairbanks range
from 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the
summer, to 60 below in the winter. In
2011, the university generated 57,000
MW-hrs annually and purchased another nearly 9,000 MW-hrs from the
local utility. Chilled water production
for air conditioning amounted to 3. 9
million ton hours.
While UAF would have loved to use
alternative energy sources to generate
power, it wasn’t realistic. In January,
it would require 4,900 acres of photo-
voltaic panels in the paltry available
light, even if energy storage was avail-
able. Biomass – wood or other organic
fuel -- requires 54,000 acres per year,
or 50 acres per day. Installing wind
turbines would require hundreds of
miles of transmission lines due to the
low average of wind speed in the area.
Hydro power on the nearby Chena and
Tanana rivers would take decades to
develop and there is no viable source
Fuel cost was another major factor.
The nearest natural gas pipeline is 400
miles away, so it wasn’t an option in the
near or even long term. Liquefied natural gas ($17/MMBTU) must be trucked
into Fairbanks, re-vaporized and then
distributed via city gas lines, but the
supply can become limited as the temperature falls. Fuel oil ($18.85/MMB-
TU) and buying power ($50/MMBTU)
were also high cost alternatives. Coal,
supplied by rail from 130 miles away,
Fuel costs were only part of the for-
mula, of course, along with capital and
operational costs. In all, Stanley Con-
sultants evaluated several options for
1. Do nothing different and rehab
existing boilers. The two older
coal-fired boilers would produce
100,000 pounds of steam per hour
and the remaining diesel boilers
would generate 200,000 pounds
of steam per hour. Cost, $25
million through 2024, including
capital and operating costs. No
allowance for campus growth. Reliability issues.
2. Coal-fired gasifier, reciprocating
engine and heat recovery system.
Complicated arrangement with
an estimated cost of $26 million,
through 2024, including capital
and operating costs. It produces
John Solan is a senior mechanical engineer at Stanley Consultants in Denver.
Mike Ruckhaus is senior project manager at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Chilkoot Ward is UAF’s Director of Utilities.