Pivoting

Penn State President Rodney Erickson once said:

“I will reinforce to the entire Penn State community the moral imperative of doing the right thing – the first time, every time.” 

On the West Campus Steam Plant gas conversion-transmission line project, Penn State OPP administrators blew it the first time – insulting the Penn State students and workers who live in the Borough of State College by planning a dangerous project in secret, manipulating the minimal public information they did release, and then clamming up again when they got caught.

Community members can spend more time digging through the emails and other documents to find additional evidence of fraud and other criminal, civil and PSU administrative policy violations.

But several readers have reported feeling physically sick when they read about how some University officials think about and deliberately manipulate Borough residents. I’ve felt sick intermittently while finding the information and organizing it for publication. Digging into contempt-filled verbal garbage, launching ethics investigations and filing lawsuits is time-consuming, emotionally draining, expensive, and decidedly un-fun.

If there’s any way to keep the University-Borough conflict out of the court system, I’d like to see the parties go that way.

What would be fun? 

A joint project between University leaders, faculty and students, and Borough leaders and residents – to design and build a world-class carbon-zero energy system. That would be a lot of fun.

Penn State will either stick to the fossil fuel path, or shift onto the conservation and renewables path by taking this community-opened window of opportunity to do “the right thing, the second time, this time anyway.”

To seize that opportunity, Associate Vice-President for Physical Plant Ford Stryker – who was one of the highest- ranking Penn State leaders directly involved in the October 10, 2012 private briefing to Mayor Elizabeth Goreham – should take a first step toward restoring public trust in the good faith of University planning partners.

What’s the first step?

The first trust rebuilding step is for the Office of Physical Plant to release the information the community needs to continue their work on feasibility analysis for renewable alternatives to fossil fuel energy supplies.

While the Right-to-Know Law in Pennsylvania doesn’t currently require Penn State to release information to the public, it also doesn’t bar the University from voluntarily releasing information. The PA Sunshine Law sets a low bar for transparency, not the high self-imposed transparency standard University leaders like to claim they hold.

Matt Dahlhausen’s current document request list starts with two key documents:

  • PSU Master/Strategic Utilities Plan
  • PSU Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan

At a finer level of detail, the community-based engineering team is working on 30-year capital, fuel and maintenance cost projections for a Ground Source Heat Pump plus Cogeneration system. To continue their work, they need data.

  • Existing renewable energy feasibility studies, especially geothermal, or written confirmation that no such studies have been done.
  • Existing reports or disaggregation studies on campus buildings and retrofitting plans currently underway, or written confirmation that no such studies/plans have been done.
  • Monthly utility for steam, chilled water, electric, service water for all campus buildings, plus hourly data for large/high use buildings on the district systems.
  • Hourly fuel consumption (gas, coal, diesel), steam output (pounds per hour), make-up water, condensate return, power production from cogen for the West Campus Steam Plant and the East Campus Steam Plant.
  • Hourly and/or daily electric consumption, gallons per minute and temperature of supply, gallons per minute and temperature of return, for chilled water plants.
  •  Electric feed for campus: Megawatts of power – 15 minunte interval data (to get peak), and costing data ($/mwh, $/peak kw)
  • Current annual fuel use and fuel price data
  • Current water use/water loss charges incurred by the current steam system.

Then What?

Within the University, planners need to file for an extension of the deadline to comply with US-EPA emissions standards, making clear that the reason for the delay is to plan and implement a conservation and renewable energy greenhouse gas reduction strategy to replace current coal-fueled energy supplies.

Within the community-based engineering team, there are a few ideas about how to move forward once they’ve got enough energy use data to make realistic projections.

Plan One – Outlined in more detail at altPSUenergy
  1. Determine the current energy usage in the 65 buildings on the chiller loop.
  2. Design a geothermal water-to-water system, converting the chiller loop for distribution and adding a heat pump system scaled to meet the 65-building load.
  3. Leave the steam distribution system in place for winter heat; start construction in late summer 2013 or 2014 when chiller loop demand drops.
  4. Calculate the reduction in coal demand resulting from the chiller loop conversion.
  5. Expand the East Campus Steam Plant to supply the remaining portion of the coal-fired energy demand.
Plan Two
  1. Participate in a comprehensive feasibility study of renewable options. Note: state grant program will pay 50% of the cost, up to $175,000, for Ground Source Heat Pump feasibility studies.
  2. Carry out East Residence Halls renovation, removing the buildings from the steam system to reduce steam heat demand.
  3. Pursue load reduction throughout campus with deep retrofits, intensive student and staff education, administrative policies on minimum thermostat settings in summer and maximum settings in winter and other measures.
  4. Collect 15 minute interval data for residential and science buildings (the largest energy users) from now until Spring 2015, tracking load over two winters to determine the needed geothermal capacity.

Those are just two rough, preliminary plans, based on the limited data the University has made available to date and the limited time community volunteers have been able to invest in analysis since being hit upside the head by a 12″ gas pipe in mid-March. Corrections and clarifications are, as always, welcome.

Those plans are also a good start toward an open, inclusive Town-Gown process of building long-term community energy security and reducing our local contribution to global climate change.

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