NMU Wood Biomass Power Plant

Northern Michigan University is building a power plant based on wood biomass. The plant project has been on the drawing board since 2004. The school held a groundbreaking this morning, but construction started in March.

“This is not just a historical moment for Northern, but for me as the university’s president,” said NMU President Les Wong. “One of the first project ideas I heard about when I came to NMU was of a renewable energy facility. So for as long as I’ve been here, which is now eight years, this has been a strategic goal of the university and we appreciate the partnership we have with Johnson Controls to make it a reality. NMU is committed to being a campus that works hard at its sustainability measures and this facility will help us within that area.”

Cloyd says that coming out of the recession, he’s excited the project is getting underway to not only continue the school’s commitment to renewable energy but also to add local jobs.

The facility will produce up to 87 percent of the campus steam consumption currently supplied by burning fossil fuel at the adjacent Ripley Heating Plant. It will also produce up to 16 percent of the university’s electricity needs, reducing the amount that must be purchased from the Marquette Board of Light and Power.

The project is funded by internal or bond proceeds paid back through operational cost savings guaranteed by Johnson Controls. In addition to the new construction, work will address $800,000 in long-term maintenance at the Ripley plant, which relies primarily on natural gas with fuel oil as a backup and will be used to meet peak steam demand.

“By being able to burn multiple types of fuel, the university has a critical ability to fiscally react to significant changes in the fuel source marketplace,” said Brian Cloyd, chair of the NMU Board of Trustees. “The new plant will also incorporate the best available control technology and meet federal EPA and Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment standards.”

The new plant won’t replace the existing Ripley Heating Plant but will instead operate alongside it. It should help reduce NMU’s operating costs. It’ll produce more than 85% of the heat needed on campus and about one–sixth of NMU’s electricity.

The plant will cost $16.4 million. NMU officials expect to do the first test burn next January. It’s scheduled to be fully operational in June 2013.

Posted by: Mike Hoey