The Lake and the Tidal Wave

For this post, “they” refers to PSU Physical Plant’s institutional representatives, primarily Steve Maruszewski, Rob Cooper, Ian Salada and Paul Moser. “DEP” refers to Muhammad Zaman and Thomas Calhoun. “We” refers to community activists, primarily Matt Dahlhausen, David Stone, Johan Zwart, Smita Bharti, Janet Engeman, Katherine Watt (me), Mike Rybacki, Pam Steckler, Bill Heckinger, Vincent Crespi, and Joe Cusumano

The Penn State energy planning controversy is beset by non-intersecting monologs. They’re preoccupied by the affordability and safety of fossil-fueled power plants. We’re pre-occupied by the dead-endness of fossil fuels and the danger of continued dependency. They’re worried about getting across a lake; we’re worried about a looming tidal wave.

Overall we need to continue developing our diversity of approaches and work styles as an organizing strength. Following is a more specific to-do list (compiled from activist emails and conversations):

Information Collection, Analysis and Dissemination

  • Continue demanding public release of the Energy Strategic Master Plan; continue pursuing the ESMP via subpoena under a formal adjudicatory record, such as the State College Zoning Hearing Board or the DEP Environmental Hearing Board
  • Continue pursuing access to the OPP air quality study (formally requested by the State College Planning Commission on November 6, 2013)
  • Continue pointing out that Penn State hasn’t given renewable energy a fair shot, has conducted no studies on how to incorporate it into the mix to reduce their use of fossil fuels, and doesn’t mention it in public presentations of their energy plans until 2020. Get across that their current plan is crappy.
  • Continue digging into the specifics of the West Campus Steam Plant project
  • Continue challenging PSU assertions that they can’t in principle go to renewables because the technology isn’t ready yet and it costs too much. Both of those assertions are false, and should be refuted every single time they are used as a justification for a fossil-fuel heavy energy plan.
  • Continue deepening our understanding of the time needed for energy efficiency projects to reduce base load, practical and cost considerations for project implementation, and damage caused by large-scale renewables.
  • Investigate and clearly convey our evolving understanding of the nuances within Penn State’s organizational structure.
  • Continue to make intelligent critiques of the WCSP project and overall energy plan; continue hammering them on misrepresentations, distortions, inconsistencies and data manipulation.
  • Continue pointing out that PSU has less actual renewable energy installed than State College residents.
  • Continue pointing out that PSU as an institution has done a poor job sealing up their buildings. (The fact that the Bryce Jordan Center was built in 1995 and had to be sealed in 2010 is an example of poor initial design.)
  • Continue bringing public attention to the fracking connection to the project, and the long-range danger of fracking; continue challenging assertions that natural gas is better than coal from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint.
  • Continue pointing out to Penn State officials that they must take an alternatives analysis and energy master plan much more seriously than they have, and must take into account the whole life-cycle of energy production, distribution, consumption and emissions.
  • Continue using anecdotal stories to evoke a communal sense of collective loss from fracking damage, declining world access to affordable fuels (rising fuel extraction and distribution costs) and climate change.

Political Pressure and Negotiation 

  • Delay. The longer they’re delayed, the more expensive the current plan becomes – financially and politically – and the more motivation they have to do something different.
  • Apply pressure at the master planning level and at the Board of Trustees to increase funding for efficiency projects, and to end campus growth policies.
  • Create an alternative (off-campus) working group for doing long-term OPP planning that includes interested OPP staffers, digs into the data and engineering specs and building analysis and reports out regularly on the process.
  • Continue lobbying local and state representatives to educate themselves about the issue and get involved.
  • Form a negotiation team in case PSU reaches out to negotiate.


  • Continue emphasizing the need to reduce winter peak load as a component of reducing needed peak production capacity; continue pointing out the “apples to oranges” comparison being used by OPP (i.e. converting the entire campus to geothermal at current consumption levels, as contrasted with deep retrofits for conservation reducing the campus-wide load, followed by geothermal deployment at the decreased consumption levels).
  • Continue developing detailed conservation and alternative energy plans. [See, for reference, 10.28.13 Rybacki Proposal Draft 3]
  • Continue analyzing district renewables v. individual building renewables. [See Footnote*]
  • Continue investigating Penn State’s original 2011 Option #1 (simple five-boiler retrofit to burn gas at WCSP with current gas supply lines; no new boilers’ and fast-tracked building efficiency retrofits), to cut gas consumption and air pollution by up to 50% and begin the phase out of the WCSP. Continue investigating ultra low NOx Best Available Technology (BAT) boilers or post combustion mitigation inside the plant or in the existing baghouse. [See, for reference, 3.25.11 WCSP – DEP Note to File)

Regulatory Pressure

  • Continue pressuring the DEP representatives about how they interpret regulations (eg. “project scope”)
  • Continue tracking the written record established before, during and since the DEP hearing, which will form the basis for EPA’s review of how DEP has handled the permits.
  • File a legal appeal of the DEP’s ruling (if DEP approves the WCSP permit).
  • Continue pressuring the State College Borough Council to enforce the air quality provisions of the Community Bill of Rights.
  • Appeal State College Zoning Officer Anne Messner’s decision to approve the WCSP project to the borough Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB), based on citizen standing via the DEP and EPA permit process and the Community Bill of Rights.
  • Continue encouraging independent-minded DEP staffers to push back against bad policy and/or blow the whistle on lax enforcement of good policy.
  • Continue convincing EPA to crack down on the Pennsylvania’s poor implementation of federal environmental laws.
  • Use ESMP (when released) to document incremental staging of the gas conversion to avoid New Source Review, MACT jurisdiction, and public input and due process. [See, for reference, 25 PA Code § 127.216: “Circumvention –  Regardless of the exemptions provided in this subchapter, an owner or other person may not circumvent this subchapter by causing or allowing a pattern of ownership or development, including the phasing, staging, delaying or engaging in incremental construction, over a geographic area of a facility which, except for the pattern of ownership or development, would otherwise require a permit or submission of a plan approval application.”]


  • Continue to act with integrity and a strong sense of right and wrong, asserting that climate change and fracking are moral issues, requiring urgent and significant personal, institutional and economic commitments.
  • Continue deepening a values-based engineering perspective, in which technical rigor is directly derived from clear moral values around energy production, delivery and consumption.
  • Continue measuring PSU’s performance on openness against high standards of transparency.

Financial – We know they have $56.3 million (currently) slated for the pipeline and plant conversion. They’ve also stated publicly that there’s $16 million budgeted for unspecified conservation measures (it’s not clear if that’s $16 million per year for 5 years, or $16 million spread out over 5 years).

  • Continue developing the argument that the budgeted funding for the pipeline and WCSP conversion can and should be spent more wisely.
  • Continue emphasizing that – in addition to current dollars – today’s energy decisions will be paid for with our and their childrens’ future.
  • Continue pointing out that if OPP changes their focus from the gas plant to conservation, and begins pressuring the Board of Trustees to authorize and fund a conservation strategy instead of an expanded capacity strategy, they might see money coming from additional sources (i.e. grants and donations).

Media Relations

  • Continue maintaining a civil tone while speaking truth to power; hold decision-makers accountable for their decisions through constructive criticism of institutional representatives as such, not through personal attacks.
  • Continue portraying decision-makers as very shortsighted, emphasizing our difficulty understanding how such knowledgeable people can so recklessly make such dangerous decisions and spread so much misinformation.
  • Prepare and issue public statements to the media before key events (such as the DEP hearing) to state our positions and convey the different perspectives held by members of our group.
  • Continue using opinion pages to educate the public about important points; draft a group op-ed on how we would recommend Penn State spend the $56.3 million going into the pipeline and WCSP conversion project, plus the $16 million slated for conservation measures; we have a variety of well-researched alternative ideas, and with more collaboration from OPP people, we could make those alternatives increasingly detailed, accurate, and feasible.
  • Consider chipping in to purchase small advertisements to educate the public about important points.


Individual Building Upgrades v. District System Upgrade

According to Matt Dahlhausen:

“…the $/GHG figures presented by Rob Cooper [Slide 110 of 9.12.13 Our Energy Future PowerPoint] are accurate. The campus energy waste is so great and the project scope so large that it will take over $100 million and at least a decade to do enough energy efficiency work for renewables to be effective. The easiest criticism of the $/GHG chart is that such graphs are meaningless unless they also show the quantity of energy savings. There is only so much cheap energy savings. The 80-20 rule applies, meaning that the incremental $/GHG is cheaper for energy efficiency for the first 80% of emissions reductions, at which point renewables become cheaper for the last 20%…

Diversity factor is the peak campus load divided by the total sum of the individual buildings’ loads. This is important because, to install geothermal and solar equipment in each building individually (for example, under the Rybacki plan), they would need enough capacity to meet the peak building load, plus sum. With a high amount of diversity, meaning a low diversity factor (Penn State’s is 60%), they only need to install about 60% of the equipment capacity. This means one-third fewer heat pumps, holes in the ground, piping, wiring, etc. than is required for individual building ground source heat pumps plus renewables.

Diversity factor is especially important in a campus-wide “district” system, because some buildings require cooling while others require heating.  Using a district system (as Penn State does) allows the system to transfer heat between buildings, rather than pump it into the ground source loops to exchange heat with the ground and then use a heat pump to raise or lower the temperature. The direct exchange is much more energy efficient.

A district system is also a lot more resilient. It’s unlikely the whole system will go down, but with a decentralized system (individual buildings), it’s likely for one or two heat pumps to stop working each year. With 200 buildings, and equipment with 20-30 year lifespans, that’s 6-10 replacements a year. It’s also far easier on maintenance to have very large heat pumps in one main service building, like the cooling plants are now, than to try to handle maintenance on 200 building heat pumps.


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