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April 8, 2015

MSU to stop burning coal at campus power plant

In a move that will reduce emissions at its T.B. Simon Power Plant as well as significantly advance its Energy Transition Plan, Michigan State University is taking steps to stop burning coal by the end of 2016, with a majority of coal purchasing and burning ending in 2015.

The university adopted its Energy Transition Plan in April 2012. Campus leaders said the decision to stop burning coal results from the efforts undertaken to achieve the goals of the plan.

The decision further helps MSU reliably meet its future energy needs in a sustainable fashion.

“Sustainability is one of our guiding institutional principles,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “This represents a great opportunity for MSU to further reduce its environmental impact.”

Simon made the announcement today at a live webcast titled “A Conversation with President Simon about MSU’s Energy Future.” The hour-long panel discussion included representatives from MSU, Consumers Energy and CustomerFirst Renewables and covered a wide range of topics.

A recording of the webcast will be available at

Located on the south end of campus, the power plant now burns natural gas, coal and biomass to produce steam that is used for heat and electricity. However, a confluence of changing energy costs, along with new federal emission rules, allowed MSU to stop burning coal in a financially viable way.

“Transitioning to natural gas as our sole fuel source gives us a cleaner, stable power supply moving forward,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant, which is the chief power provider to MSU’s 5,200-acre campus.

Currently, three of the four boilers at the power plant burn natural gas. The amount of coal burned at the plant already has been reduced by 65 percent since 2009-10.

As the Environmental Protection Agency began unveiling new emission standards over the past couple of years, the Office of the Executive Vice President for Administrative Services, in collaboration with Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, began planning for those new standards and researched different technologies and solutions.

Additionally, MSU examined the ability for the fourth boiler to burn natural gas. MSU determined it would cost less to restore the fourth boiler’s capability to burn natural gas (less than $1 million) versus investing in new technologies to meet the new EPA rules and continue burning coal ($4.5 million with a recurring annual cost of $100,000).

The decision to stop burning coal propels MSU’s Energy Transition Plan and advances its three goals: Improve the environment; make resources available for investment into the research and development of sustainability energy; and demonstrate the university’s leadership role in sustainable energy.

MSU has signed an agreement with Consumers Energy to build a substation supplying the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, when complete, with electricity. The substation also will allow the university to purchase additional electricity to allow its co-generation power plant to operate at an optimal steam/electricity balance. Also, to advance toward its goal of eventual 100 percent renewable energy sourcing, MSU currently is investigating public-private partnership options to add renewable sources of power.

For more information on MSU’s Energy Transition Plan and sustainability efforts, go to


By: Tom Oswald

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