Emergency Organizing Meeting Re: New Natural-Gas CoGen Plant at Freeman

Frack that...

From Evan Weber ’13:

In the last couple of weeks, it has come to my attention that the University is moving FAST on plans to build a new natural gas co-generation plant at Freeman to make most of the campus “energy independent.” In the university’s greenhouse gas reports, it has used the installation of the co-gen plant on High Street as a source of significant greenhouse gas reductions. While co-generation is a more efficient technology than traditional power plants (uses excess heat produced by combustion to heat buildings), such a strong capital investment in fossil fuel technology would cripple our community’s ability to move to true energy independence through renewable technologies. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that domestic natural gas is largely extracted in this country through hydraulic fracturing (“hydrofracking” or “fracking”) which poses huge moral questions of environmental justice and may have a larger life-cycle carbon footprint than coal. 

This power plant is being considered at the request of President Roth to find a way for the University to be almost completely up and running in less than 6 hours if something like last year’s October blackout were to happen again.



The committee working on the Power Plant plans to present to the Board of Trustees on 10/20, so we need to act fast.

Date: Tonight, October 9th
Time: 9pm
Place: UOC, 190 High Street

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9 thoughts on “Emergency Organizing Meeting Re: New Natural-Gas CoGen Plant at Freeman

  1. Pingback: Fight the Power: Thoughts on Wesleyan’s Power Plant Proposal – Wesleying

  2. Adam Brudnick '13

    Natural Gas Cogen is the cleanest source of energy currently possible while still using fossil-fuel based means — cleaner than using the available grid-based electricity. It’s also cheaper than the grid. That said, depending on how much of the mined gas leaks directly into the atmosphere, it could potentially be worse. That doesn’t mean it is worse, but that it could be.

    What I’d like to see is a graph of the proposed plant’s emissions as a function of the amount of gas you assume is leaked — ie, 1m3 leak/10m3 mined, 2m3 leak/10m3 mined, etc — compared to the emissions from the status quo. As part of this you should factor in the energy costs associated with accessing and transporting the fuel in the first place, and then compare it to a similar analysis for the grid. Then we can have a reasonable, informed debate. With this graph, you can be blunt: “I think this plant will be worse because I believe that for every 10 cubic meters of gas collected, 5 will be released directly” or “I think it will be better because I believe the “failure to capture” rate is closer to 1 in 10.”

    I should note that studies of fracked gas (http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/Marcellus.html comes to mind) often don’t account for the considerable efficiencies of cogeneration, and merely do a “big picture” analysis of total energy consumption in the United States (including vehicle fuel and industrial uses). Where grid-electricity is roughly 35% efficient, cogen roughly doubles this to 70% efficient, changing the numbers significantly. Just because in the aggregate a fuel might be “bad” doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it here, locally, if it’s “good.” The fact of the matter is that choosing our consumption patterns (in a similar way to opting to “eat local”) have far less of an impact in energy markets than choosing consumption patterns have on food markets for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here. Therefore, fracking will happen in the medium term, completely irrespective of what we do here.

    What I think an ideal outcome of this would be, assuming that this natural gas plant turns out to be cleaner than the grid (but not as much as renewables) is to set up a special “energy generation revolving fund.” Currently all savings from economic/environmental projects go towards financial aid — these projects being both on the supply side (generation) and demand side (energy efficiency). The demand side projects pose no “moral hazard” because they simply reduce use, and therefore generate”clean” money. The supply side projects, while still emitting less than the status quo, still do emit at some level. Rather then earmarking this “somewhat dirty” money to financial aid, if we could earmark it to a fund that grows over time and then use that money invest in “clean” sources such as Solar PV it more or less eliminates whatever moral qualms might exist with building a fossil fuel plant while still gaining the medium term emissions benefits AND ensuring “business continuity.”

  3. devil's advocate

    That being said, how is a college with such a small endowment going to pay such an expensive cost of installing renewable energy sources throughout the campus (i.e., wind, solar, water, etc.)?? While cogen isn’t necessarily the best option from a renewable energy standpoint, it is a step up from what has been considered the norm for so many years.

    I’m not saying it’s necessarily the right direction for Roth to be moving things, but it’s also not as evil as it is made out to be. I think the big thing to remember here is that things cost money. When a university is already so strapped for cash as Wesleyan is, it realistically cannot take the steps that some may be pushing for, particularly because such steps would be so expensive.

  4. Matt Lichtash

    Just so people understand some background info on Natural Gas, here is the U.S. Department of Energy’s projection of the sources of Natural Gas production over the next 25 years. Note that tight gas=fracked gas, and that by 2035 over 2/3 of all gas produced in the United States will be fracked (up from just over 40% today).

  5. Ben Doernberg '13

    Dear President Roth,

    The specifics of natural gas co-generation plants are not something I know much about (yet). That being said, I must ask:

    Why is this being presented to the Board of Trustees next week without an opportunity for community input? Will students, faculty, staff, and alumni be involved in the process before the Board and Administration have made a decision? When would concerned community members have found out about this plan if it had not “come to [Evan Weber’s] attention”?

    I have heard you commit to greater transparency in administrative decision making in multiple forums, but have yet to see it in practice. Does your office or the University have a policy on transparency and community inclusion in decision making?

    Thank you,

    Ben Doernberg ’13

    1. Michael Roth

      No presentation to Board next week, as far as I know. Still time for discussion and input. Michael Roth

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