- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - A toasty building in Laramie’s frigid winters is a necessity to keep University of Wyoming students and faculty warm and stop expensive pipe bursts. However, a growing campus is pushing the Central Energy Plant to the limit.

The 34-year-old boilers in the plant are not as efficient as they once were - the overall plant power efficiency is about 55 percent, said Frosty Selmer, deputy director for utilities management.

The current plant output is just about at the peak load for the campus, the Laramie Boomerang reported (https://bit.ly/1SrygPy). Various energy-saving efforts have lowered campus’ needs, even with ongoing construction. A new steam piping system through Greenhill Cemetery helped solve some low pressure problems on the west side of campus, but the Michael B. Enzi STEM facility and the planned science and engineering buildings will push the steam load over the edge, Selmer said, so alternatives are being sought.

“We can’t modify the power plant too much without crossing that fine line of doing a major upgrade,” he said. “It makes sense to look at a hot water plant that, if done right, could have 90 percent efficiency.”

A new ancillary building in the northwest corner of campus would take advantage of the much cheaper hot water heating system, Selmer explained. Lower-cost distribution and more efficient energy management can save UW utility costs.

A steam tunnel and piping system is expensive - about $5,000 per linear foot installed, Selmer said. Hot water systems do not need a tunnel system and cost a third of the price.

The plant would also supply chilled water to surrounding buildings.

The Legislature appropriated $1 million to begin a feasibility and needs assessment and find a location for the structure, said Bill Mai, vice president for administration.

“It goes hand-in-hand with the Science Initiative Building and Engineering Building - and the STEM Building, for that matter,” he said. “Those three buildings are big with a lot of demand for steam and chilled water. To have those buildings function efficiently . we have to start doing something.”

While the current utilities system could absorb one of the buildings, construction of all three in a relatively short time span will place too much stress on the energy plant. The Legislature has been aware of the need for additional utility support for a couple years, Mai said.

“When the Science Initiative Building started its planning phases, they were saying that we’re headed toward a problem,” he said.

Mai estimated the building at about $10 million, although no price has been given.

“It’ll require state appropriation to get it done,” he said. “This is part of those building projects, in my opinion.”

Constructing a new building is much cheaper than overhauling the current Central Energy Plant, which would likely cost tens of millions of dollars, Selmer said. The building will likely be three stories with 30,000-square-feet of total space. The building would likely run on natural gas, eliminating noisy coal deliveries.

“It’s not going to take up too much space - more like a quarter of a block” he said.

A modular plant would allow for easy additions in the future to account for UW’s growing needs, Selmer said.

This would not be the first time an energy plant would be in that area of campus. The first plant went up on the south side of Lewis Street between 10th and 11th streets near 1910 and was creating electricity by 1928, Selmer said. The current facility on 19th Street came online in 1982.

If pushed beyond the limit, UW research could be first affected, Selmer said.

“We’d have to do emergency protocols,” he said. “Our biggest energy users are fume-hood buildings. We would slow down those systems and say, ‘You can’t use those hoods.’ We’ve probably got almost 600 fume hoods on campus, so research would be curtailed. Even now, when we have some of these really cold-weather events, we put this into effect.”

Of course, the individual buildings would also turn down the thermostat a few degrees. Multiple pipe bursts during an unusually cold weekend in December 2014 cost the university tens of thousands of dollars, and adding additional strain to the heating system could lead to more problems.

“In reality, things would get cold, and you could have freeze-ups,” Selmer said.

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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