Heating plant upgrade

UWL Heating Plant.

State Building Commission approves UWL heating plant project that eliminates coal burning

A $3.9 million project to upgrade UW-La Crosse’s heating plant and eliminate coal as a secondary fuel source for the university was approved during a State Building Commission meeting Wednesday, Aug. 7, at State Fair Park in West Allis, Wisconsin.  

The Heating Plant Fuel Reliability Upgrade project will provide 52,000 gallons of on-site fuel oil storage at UWL to allow for 72 hours of back-up operation at the heating plant — a Department of Administration and UW System Administration Risk Management requirement. The project will also make some minor alterations to two, 50-year-old boilers that burn coal, natural gas and diesel fuel, making them more efficient at burning gas. The project will also remove all coal burning equipment from the plant — including ash removal equipment and the baghouse filter system — eliminating coal as a fuel source for the university.  

UW System Administration is making a priority of eliminating coal as a heating plant fuel at all UW institutions. The reasons include: increasing environmental concerns associated with burning coal and disposal of coal ash, the elimination of coal as a boiler fuel at UW-Madison, Capitol Heat & Power, and Waupun Correctional Institution, as well as the uncertainty about an economical supply of coal in the limited quantities. 

The heating plant project costs $3.9 million, with $2.032 million in general fund supported borrowing and $1.952 million in program revenue cash. It is anticipated that construction on the project will start in May 2020 and be completed by August 2021.   

Storage requirements

While the project meets the goal of eliminating coal, it also provides needed storage space for emergency boiler fuel. The DOA, in conjunction with UWSA Risk Management, requires that each heating plant have on-site storage of emergency boiler fuel to allow 72-hours of operation at the historic peak weekend steam usage rate in order to sustain operations in the event of an extended primary fuel disruption or curtailment. The standard is derived from the scenario of a natural gas supply interruption during a winter weekend starting on a Friday and an inability to obtain a fuel oil delivering until the following Monday morning. Such an interruption of heat during extreme cold — even for a short time — may require closure of and freeze damage to campus buildings, harm to research animals, and disruption of campus instruction, food service and events. 

UWL currently has 12,000 gallons of fuel oil storage capacity, allowing for approximately 14 hours of operation in such a situation. The project provides needed 52,000 additional capacity reach the 72-hour requirement.  

The new fuel storage would go in the existing coal bunker area.  The project would also remove the existing 10,000 gallon fuel storage that is buried between the Heating Plant and Wittich Hall.   

In addition to UWL’s two, 50-year-old boilers, the plant also has two, 7-year-old smaller boilers that can burn natural gas and diesel fuel that will not need any upgrades.