In a Push for Energy Savings, Rutgers OKs $75 Million in Upgrades

Rutgers' cogeneration plant and heating center on Busch Campus is due for major upgrades. Credits: Rutgers University

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — For decades, Rutgers University facilities near its flagship New Brunswick campus and in Newark have relied on two plants for power, heating and cooling.

One was installed on Busch Campus in 1996 and is on its way to becoming obsolete. The other came to Newark in 1987 and, now past its prime, runs at just 60 percent of its full capacity, according to documents provided by Rutgers.

Now, they’re both in line for a series of upgrades that’s expected to span $74.5 million. In return, university officials said, Rutgers could see a total of of nearly $5.57 million per year, while cutting emissions in half.

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The Board of Governors approved two resolutions at its meeting last week that kicked into gear the processes to replace aging power infrastructure on Busch Campus in Piscataway and Rutgers Health Sciences Campus in Newark.

If all goes as planned, the improvements stand to increase the amount of electricity generated by each plant, “improve reliability and efficiency, reduce energy costs, reduce emissions and produce energy credits,” according to the resolutions, “all of which furthers Rutgers’ sustainability goals.”

Rutgers officials plans to replace three natural gas turbines on Busch and three in Newark. They also intend to revamp the infrastructure so that each plant no longer uses a nitrogen oxide reduction technology that’s “disallowed under current regulations,” according to the resolutions.

The cogeneration plant in Piscataway provides electricity and heating to 270 buildings on the Busch and Livingston campuses, for a total floor area of more than 8.5 million square feet, according to the school. That’s critical to keeping the lights on in dorms, student centers, dining areas, recreation facilities, classrooms and administrative offices.

The approved $30 million in upgrades to that plant is slated to boost how much power it produces. The project also stands to cut down water usage by 8 million gallons, or $58,000, per year, according to Rutgers.

Overall, new natural gas turbines and electrical and mechanical upgrades could result in $2.86 million in savings per year, the resolution states. Of that number, $1 million would come from energy savings and $1.86 million from energy credits.

The university intends to take on debt to finance the project.

Rutgers officials approved $44.5 million in upgrades to the cogeneration plant at Newark, which also cools the buildings it serves.

That operation covers 13 buildings and University Hospital, according to the resolution approved by the board. The 19 million-square-foot area includes “significant” medical treatment facilities, classrooms and administrative offices.

But the plant runs at roughly half its capacity. According to Rutgers, its three natural gas turbines are “well beyond the end of their useful lives.”

The upcoming overhaul stands to replace those turbines and bring about additional improvements to cooling, electrical and mechanical infrastructure. That’s expected to yield greater energy production, along with savings of 3.4 million gallons of water and $2.86 million per year, according to the university.

University officials plan to cover the tab with $36.2 million in grants and forgivable loans from the state Economic Development Authority. Another $2 million would come from a grant from the power company PSE&G.

Rutgers and University Hospital would pay down the remaining $8.2 million, which would be financed through a below-market-rate 2 percent loan. University Hospital is in line to pay 27 percent, or $2.2 million, of that bill, an amount that corresponds with its energy usage, according to Rutgers.

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