The Penn State Board of Trustees unanimously approved a plan to convert the West Campus Steam Plant’s steam production system’s energy source from coal to natural gas at its meeting Friday.
The switch was not discussed at length at the meeting, but Penn State Vice President for Finance and Business Al Horvath said the modifications will cost between $20 and $35 million. Penn State has been thinking about an upgrade for the West Campus Steam Plant since 2005 and started seriously considering alternatives in 2009, Horvath said.
“We need to be sure that the power plant would meet demand,” Horvath said. “We don’t want potential problems.”
The steam plant change should be completed in 2014, Horvath said. A Frequently Asked Questions document titled “Penn State’s Switch to Natural Gas” was also handed out to answer several questions regarding the switch.
According to the FAQ, the switch will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from Penn State’s steam plants by 37 percent –– 69,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
But Braden Crooks, the Greenpeace student representative for Eco-Action said his club feels the switch to natural gas is still “regrettable.”
“I think what we would like to see is that this switch to a natural gas is only a temporary step in a move toward a renewable energy,” Crooks (senior-landscape architecture) said.
Any loss in carbon emissions from coal is mitigated by methane emissions from natural gas, Crooks said.
The university has been working with Eco-Action to create a sustainability coalition between students, faculty and members of the administration, Crooks said.
After the board meeting, Crooks met with Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims to discuss the creation of such an organization, he said.
Touching on other large-scale university issues, Penn State President Graham Spanier said during his opening address at the meeting that an increase in state appropriations for Penn State is unlikely this year.
“Even if we receive the same budget we received last year, just to meet our financial obligation –– if we hope to give a modest pay raise to employees, if we hope to keep up with inflation –– we have to continue to look for budget cuts,” Spanier said. “If our budget were to actually be cut, this would put quite a potentially serious pressure on the university for possible deeper cuts and tuition increases that would be beyond that already proposed.”
Spanier also recognized Penn State women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose and several players who were in attendance at the meeting for their record-setting four consecutive national championships.
“There are no guarantees you’re going to win or be successful in life… It’s been a great ride. We’ve been fortunate to have great players,” Rose said at the meeting.
In addition to the steam plant conversion, the board also approved a 48,000 square foot expansion and partial renovation of the Intramural Building.
The upgrade is “part of [Penn State’s] strategy to meet student demand for fitness and recreation facilities,” Horvath said.
Also at Friday’s meeting, the board decided to name Penn State’s new hockey arena Pegula Ice Arena, after the donors who gave Penn State $88 million to fund the new venue, Terry and Kim Pegula. In September, the Pegulas’ donation became the largest private gift in the university’s history.
— Collegian staff writer Julia Kern contributed to this report.