UGA to replace its coal boiler with an electric option
The University of Georgia plans to replace its controversial
coal-fired steam boiler with a more efficient electric one, UGA
officials announced Wednesday.
“We won’t be taking deliveries of coal in the future,” said Ryan Nesbit, UGA vice president for finance and administration.
Student groups and others have lobbied university administrators for years to get rid of the aging boiler.
Used sparingly as a backup to other steam boilers in recent years,
the 50-year-old unit is part of a network that circulates steam
throughout the UGA campus to heat buildings in winter, keep them cool in
summer and supply sterilization units with steam. The ether boilers are
powered by natural gas, but can also burn fuel oil.
UGA hired consultants to study whether to replace the boiler with a
gas-fired one, like UGA’s other boilers, or one that would burn biomass
such as timbering waste.
A year ago, UGA administrators were leaning toward replacing the coal
boiler with one that would burn natural gas, even if that would leave
UGA with no good backup source of fuel if natural gas supplies were
They had ruled biomass out for a variety of reasons: Biomass burning
pollutes, too, and supplying the boiler would have created an endless
stream of trucks driving through the heart of the UGA campus to the
UGA will still burn coal, in a sense, along with nuclear power, to
power the new electrode boiler. The university’s partner in installing a
new boiler is Georgia Power, which relies heavily on coal for the
electricity it generates and is expanding its Vogtle nuclear power
But the emissions won’t be coming from the boiler’s smokestack in the middle of the UGA campus.
UGA President Jere said pollution wasn’t part of UGA’s equation in
picking the electrode boiler. Efficiency and cost savings drove that
UGA will save half a million dollars or more annually with the new
boiler, said David Spradley, director of Energy Services in UGA’s
Facilities Management Division.
The new boiler will be mainly used as a backup, giving the steam
system an additional fuel option when natural gas prices spike, he said.
As an “interruptible” natural gas customer, UGA pays a low price for
natural gas, but the price can spike high when demand is high. UGA will
be able to quickly switch to the electrode boiler to avoid natural gas
If the state Board of Regents approves, the new system could be up and running in time for cold weather in November 2015.