April 22, 2020

UW-Superior to end dependence on coal

The image of towering smoke stacks dotting the skyline is becoming a rarer site across the nation. In 2018, the UW System Board of Regents approved a financial allocation request from UW-Superior, along with UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville to upgrade their remaining coal-fired boilers to run primarily on natural gas with a fuel oil backup.

The image of towering smoke stacks dotting the skyline is becoming a rarer site across the nation. In 2018, the UW System Board of Regents approved a financial allocation request from UW-Superior, along with UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville to upgrade their remaining coal-fired boilers to run primarily on natural gas with a fuel oil backup.

UWS is one of five UW System campuses phasing out coal in 2020

The image of towering smoke stacks dotting the skyline is becoming a rarer site across the nation. In the city of Superior, there will be one less in the coming months as the University of Wisconsin-Superior transitions its heating plant’s wintertime dependency from coal to fuel oil.

“Coal has been used as an alternate, backup fuel for the heating plant since it was constructed in 1969,” said Dustin Johnson, director of facilities management. “Coal has been utilized during the coldest winter months when our boilers are under the highest loads. In the past, when UW System burned a lot of coal throughout all the campuses, it was the cheapest fuel source and used throughout the winter months.”

With natural gas as the primary heating source, UW-Superior generally utilized coal for two months of the year, which totaled 1,453 tons. In June, the UW System will end its statewide contract to provide coal for campuses.

“Due to several circumstances, UW System no longer purchases enough coal to get reduced pricing, so natural gas has become the main fuel source for most of the year," said Johnson. All heating plants have been required to burn a certain amount of coal to keep systems operating in case natural gas would become unavailable, at which point coal would then be used.”  

In preparation for this change, the UW System Board of Regents approved a financial allocation request in 2018 of nearly $29 million from UW-Superior, along with UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville to upgrade their remaining coal-fired boilers to run primarily on natural gas with a fuel oil backup.

“While heating plants are on coal, strict air quality restrictions are always adhered to which require very clean burning standards,” said Johnson. “It will be very good to be off coal for an overall reduction in emissions and staff safety with not having to deal with the coal dust in their operations and the labor that it takes to handle the coal.”

While the new equipment was scheduled to be installed this summer, the coronavirus pandemic changed that schedule.

“We are currently in the process, but with COVID-19, onsite project work is on hold,” said Johnson. “The original intent was to have the fuel oil tank, infrastructure and new burners installed by October. As of right not, we are not sure when it will be completed.”

When the new equipment is in place, Johnson expects a life span of 20 to 30 years, which will allow the campus to adapt to any situation.

“Having a backup boiler and backup fuel source is necessary to make sure that our campus continues to have heat throughout the heating season,” said Johnson. “In emergency circumstances, there is the small possibility that natural gas would be curtailed, which is why we always have the backup fuel source available.”

The image of towering smoke stacks dotting the skyline is becoming a rarer site across the nation. In 2018, the UW System Board of Regents approved a financial allocation request from UW-Superior, along with UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville to upgrade their remaining coal-fired boilers to run primarily on natural gas with a fuel oil backup.

The image of towering smoke stacks dotting the skyline is becoming a rarer site across the nation. In 2018, the UW System Board of Regents approved a financial allocation request from UW-Superior, along with UW-Stevens Point, UW-Stout, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville to upgrade their remaining coal-fired boilers to run primarily on natural gas with a fuel oil backup.

UW-Superior Faculty/Staff

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