UPGRADE FOR NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED COGENERATION FACILITY
CRUCIAL TO MEETING FUTURE UNC NEEDS By Carolyn Elfland
The university’s upgrade of its cogeneration facility,
which has a special-use permit pending with the Chapel Hill
Town Council, is critical to meeting campus electrical energy
needs and maintaining exemplary environmentally friendly practices
that benefit local citizens.
Our cogeneration plant off Cameron Avenue is one of UNC’s
great operational success stories. Since opening in 1991,
it has pioneered the use of innovative cogeneration technology,
which burns coal and natural gas to generate steam and electricity
simultaneously to cool and heat campus buildings and UNC Hospitals.
Using the fuel for steam and electricity is twice as efficient
as producing steam in one plant and electricity in another.
The plant has saved UNC, our health-care system and North
Carolina taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
The plant is one of the nation’s cleanest coal-burning
energy plants and we are proud of its reputation as a leader
among universities around the world. We often host visiting
professionals interested in UNC’s experience and our
district energy system, a key infrastructure component of
the campus master plan.
Last month, UNC received a U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency Combined Heat and Power Partnership Greenhouse Gas
Reduction report to recognize the exemplary emission reductions
achieved by the cogeneration facility. According to the EPA,
UNC’s energy program, through 2005, produced an estimated
0.2308 million metric tons of carbon equivalents less than
typical separate heat and power operations. Such reductions
are the equivalent of planting 16,482 acres of forest.
UNC’s cogeneration facility was twice honored over
four years. In 2003, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy
presented UNC with its Energy Star Combined Heat and Power
Award for exemplary cogeneration projects increasing the nation’s
electric generation efficiency. In 2000, UNC received a certificate
from the EPA and Department of Energy for leadership in environmental
We have worked hard to be good neighbors and address concerns
about noise and lights. We completed 24 noise abatement projects
and other lighting modifications in the early 1990s.
We will continue to inform the community about our improvement
plans when the town council’s public hearing, which
began in September, resumes Nov. 9. All town advisory boards
reviewing UNC’s application—planning, transportation,
bicycle and pedestrian, and community design—recommended
approval. Town Manager Cal Horton supported the application
in a preliminary recommendation. UNC addressed concerns raised
by three citizens who spoke at the September public hearing
in an Oct. 21 letter to the town.
The cogeneration plant’s electricity-producing capacity
has not been increased since the plant opened and now falls
far short of supporting critical campus loads such as UNC
Hospitals. We plan to rebuild the current 28-megawatt generator
and add another one, bringing total capacity to 54 megawatts.
The plant’s aging cooling towers need to be replaced
to support both of those generators. Electrical equipment
needs to be installed adjacent to the existing Duke Power
Here are some other facts about the improvements:
The plant’s steam-generating capacity will not increase,
honoring a promise to neighbors not to exceed limits in
a 1997 steam-use master plan.
Overhauling the existing generator and adding a new one
will increase the capacity to produce electricity from the
existing steam boilers.
The two replacement cooling towers will run more quietly
and sit next to an acoustical screening wall, reducing noise
along the west side to comply with the town’s noise
The university proposes no net changes in light levels
at any property line.
A new back-up generator will ensure that the campus can
restart operations on its own if Duke Power electricity
is not available. Having such capacity is critical to maintain
operations at UNC Hospitals and research laboratories.
With the increased capacity from the upgrades, UNC will
again generate about one-third of its own electricity as
it did when the plant opened. (We buy the rest from Duke
The university has made good-faith efforts to be responsive
to all community concerns about how we run a world-class caliber
cogeneration facility. The improvements are needed to maintain
a high-quality operation. If approved, our pledge is to continue
to be responsive to citizens. We want the cogeneration facility
to continue as a source of pride for the university without
adversely affecting our neighbors.
(Elfland is associate vice chancellor for campus services
at UNC-Chapel Hill.)