OSU Generates Heat

OSU Generates Heat
There's no doubt we're dealing with extremely cold temperatures. And if you have trouble heating your home, just imagine what's needed to keep an entire university warm.

Oregon State University has faced challenges in the past with heating dorms and buildings, but now the university is generating some of its own heat.

News spread fast across campus that the university's natural gas provider might curtail its supply, leaving some students out in the cold. "People were talking about it, worried that their room might be colder," exclaimed one OSU student.

OSU sent emails to many students warning them their thermostats might be lowered a few degrees, and as low as 55 degrees in some administrative buildings on campus because of a gas shortage.

The OSU Energy Manager says Northwest Natural Gas only has one pipe pumping gas into the area. So, when the temperatures drop, the gas company often asks the University to reduce its usage.

Gary Hanson, the Manager of Energy Operations & Maintenance said, "We can only get so much gas in the pipeline. When it gets cold, everyone turns their furnace on. The pressure in the pipeline drops and there is not enough volume to come out to the big users like ourselves."

Last winter, Northwest Natural Gas slapped the university with a $60,000 fine after it failed to curtail its usage. Hanson says they had no choice but to take the financial hit because they didn't have enough time to get their old diesel boilers up and running smoothly so the campus wouldn't freeze.

But this year, when the temperatures dropped, Hanson says the heat plant crew was prepared. "So, we tried to be pro-active. So, we started talking to the gas company and went ahead and put everything on diesel ahead of time to try and relieve the system," he said.

But OSU's old plant, that still has some of its original parts from the early 1920s, still has to use some gas. "Our problem is that we don't have enough capability to go to 100% backup fuel anymore with the size of the campus," he said.

So, OSU is building a $39 million (m) energy center just West of Reser Stadium. This will allow the university to automatically switch to diesel fuel and even bio-diesel fuel if needed. "The new plant, all the equipment is capable of burning diesel fuel, which gives us the capability of 250,000 pounds of steam per hour, which is way more than we need," Hanson said.

Which will mean the university will be 100% independent when future natural gas curtailments strike. Hanson says natural gas will continue to be their primary source of fuel because it's more economical and a cleaner burn.

He says Northwest Natural Gas is about five years out from adding another pipe to pump gas into the area. The state is paying for all of OSU's new multi-million dollar Energy Center.