Release Date: October 26, 2010

University of Wisconsin breaks ground on $250M upgrade to heating plant

Wisconsin State Journal

Marking the beginning of the end for coal power on the UW-Madison campus, Gov. Jim Doyle and other leaders broke ground Monday on a $250 million upgrade to the Charter Street Heating plant.

The mostly coal-powered plant, which provides heating and cooling for UW-Madison, will be converted to run on natural gas and farm-grown fuels, known as biomass.

It's the most expensive single project in UW-Madison history. Doyle said that when it is completed in 2013, it will be one of the country's leading biomass power plants.

"This will be one of the largest biomass power plants in the world," he said. "It will be powering our campus, city and state with wood chips, corn stalks, switch grass pellets and who knows what other great fuels ... that will be developed in the coming years."

Monday's groundbreaking followed years of planning, stemming in part from a 2007 court order requiring the state to cut coal use at the plant by 15 percent.

A federal judge found that UW-Madison and the Department of Administration violated the federal Clean Air Act by not installing modern pollution controls at the plant.

Doyle vowed in 2008 to stop burning coal at state-owned heating plants on Madison's Isthmus. The Capitol Heat and Power Plant in Downtown Madison phased out coal and started converting to natural gas in March.

The Charter Street project will be tricky because the plant will continue to provide heating and cooling to campus while construction is underway, said Jeff Niesen, vice president of construction management at Boldt. The Appleton-based Boldt Company and AMEC, a London-based company with an Atlanta office, will provide engineering, procurement and construction for the project.

The plant's coal-burning boilers will be replaced with two new boilers that run on natural gas/fuel oil and the biomass boiler, which can also burn natural gas. One existing natural gas boiler will remain in place.
The changes will eliminate the use of more than 100,000 tons of coal each year. Plant efficiency is expected to be improved by 5 to 10 percent.

Doyle said the project will create jobs and keep money in the state, which previously funneled out to purchase coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

"We do have tremendous energy resources," he said. "They are in our forests. They are in our fields. They are in the wind that blows across the state -- the sun that shines on Wisconsin. They are particularly in the ingenuity and research in our great universities."

John Harrod, director of the UW-Madison physical plant, said the new gas boilers will be on-line by next fall while the biomass boiler will be in place by winter of 2012 or the beginning of 2013.

That means the Charter Street plant's coal pile will be gone by a year from now.