WKU switches to more environmentally friendly heating system

Jackson French

WKU’s switch from coal to natural gas to power its heating system has led to a lessened carbon footprint for the school.

Dale Dyer, Facilities Operations manager, said WKU’s two coal boilers, which were once used to heat the buildings on campus and provide them with hot water, were replaced with gas boilers in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

He said the school began making the switch two years ago in anticipation of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“The EPA has gotten very strict about sulfur emissions,” Dyer said. “Without additional investment and additional equipment, Western’s boilers wouldn’t meet the new emissions rules.”

Dyer said the Maximum Achievable Control Technologies standard, a new EPA regulation designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions, went into effect in November.

“They’ve really tightened up the limits on sulfur oxide emissions, and it is going to restrict any coal-burning facility,” Dyer said.

“We knew MACT was coming and as a university, we’ve always been as green as we can possibly be,” Dyer said. “Getting the greenhouse gas emissions cut in half was a goal that we started out with several years ago, so we were moving forward with going to natural gas before the tighter MACT rules.”

John Osborne, vice president of Campus Services and Facilities, said the old coal boilers have been replaced and decommissioned.

Dyer said the old boilers will no longer be on the EPA permit, which means WKU can’t operate them under any circumstances.

The switch to natural gas, Osborne said, has been economically and environmentally beneficial.

“We are now saving money by converting to natural gas, and we are relinquishing our permits to even operate with coal, so we have decommissioned our coal boilers,” Osborne said.

“We are reducing our carbon footprint, and we are saving money,” he said.

Dyer said last season was the first that they didn’t burn any coal, adding that the new heating source is 20 percent more efficient than WKU’s previous coal-powered system, as well as more cost-effective.

“It’s very much more energy-efficient,” Dyer said. “I mean, you basically move the needle from 65 percent efficiency from the coal boilers to 85 percent efficiency for the gas.”

He also said WKU’s emissions have been reduced to about half of what they were when the school was being heated by coal boilers.

Dyer said the switch from coal to natural gas has made it easier to operate the boilers.

“There has been a small reduction in staff,” he said. “These two gas boilers do require less attention. Much of it is highly automated.”

“From an economic standpoint, natural gas is cheaper,” Dyer said.

Ann Mead, vice president for Finance and Administration, said this change, along with other energy initiatives, is making a positive impact on the utilities budget and Osbourne isn’t requesting a budget increase for next year.

Osborne said in addition to the switch to natural gas, there are projects planned for the future that will continue to make WKU more environmentally responsible.

“This is only one step of many that we are, as an institution, taking that demonstrates our commitment to sustainability,” Osborne said.