Indiana News

Purdue Gets State Approval For Coal Power Plant

7/16/2010

Indiana environmental officials have given tentative approval to Purdue University's plans for a new coal-fired power plant opposed by activists who want the school to generate electricity from cleaner sources.

In a letter mailed this week to Purdue, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management informed the school that it has approved an air permit renewal Purdue needed to proceed with the project.

Purdue plans to add a $3.98 million natural gas-fired boiler to its campus power plant and replace a 50-year-old coal-fired boiler with a new $28 million cleaner burning model. School officials say the upgrade will dramatically lower campus soot and mercury emissions.

But activists who oppose the new coal-fired boiler said the school is sticking with coal at a time when other universities are shifting to cleaner power sources.

Ball State University, for example, is moving to eliminate use of its coal-fired boilers by installing a geothermal energy system that will tap the earth's nearly constant temperature for campus heating and cooling.

Steve Francis, Indiana Sierra Club co-chairman said it "makes little sense" for Purdue to build a new boiler "that is more expensive and more polluting than other options" at a time when federal restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions are possible.

"If Purdue pushes forward with this, it's proving that it's stuck in the past and abandoning its commitment to innovation and leadership in the energy field," Francis said Friday in a statement.

He said the Sierra Club is evaluating its options on how to respond to the permit renewal and is weighing whether to pursue an appeal.

Interested parties have until the first week of August to petition IDEM to reconsider the permit. If an appeal is filed and is successful, the agency could modify, delay or even reverse its decision.

School officials say the project will cut soot emissions by 93 percent and mercury emissions by 70 percent at the West Lafayette campus' Wade Power Plant.

The power plant supplies electricity, steam for heating and chilled water for cooling of campus buildings.

Purdue vice president for physical facilities Bob McMains said staff will review the more than 360 pages of IDEM's permit report before moving on making any change to the power plant.

"We want to make sure that it has everything that we want before I make a recommendation to the senior leadership on how to proceed," he said.

McMains said he would not be surprised if there were an appeal.

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the plant purchased or used about 177,834 tons of coal at a cost of $13.9 million, said Erick Van Meter, Purdue director of utilities.

Alexis Boxer, a Sierra Student Coalition organizer for its Campuses Beyond Coal program that promotes energy alternatives at colleges that use coal for power, said student action against the permit will start up again this fall.

"We are going to be there fighting this until they break ground," she said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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