T. B. Simon Power Plant

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T.B. Simon Power Plant
T. B. Simon Power Plant, Michigan State University, East Lansing MI.jpg
T. B. Simon Power Plant, south view (2011)
CountryUnited States
LocationMichigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Coordinates42°43′03″N 84°29′04″W / 42.71759°N 84.48439°W / 42.71759; -84.48439Coordinates: 42°43′03″N 84°29′04″W / 42.71759°N 84.48439°W / 42.71759; -84.48439
Owner(s)Michigan State University
Thermal power station
Primary fuelNatural gas
Tertiary fuelBiofuel
Power generation
Units operational6
Nameplate capacity99.3 MW
External links
CommonsRelated media on Commons

T.B. Simon Power Plant is a multi-fuel cogeneration facility located on the East Lansing campus of Michigan State University. With a peak electrical output of 99.3 megawatts and a pressurized steam generation capacity of 1.3 million pounds per hour, it is one of the 500 largest power plants. The Simon Power Plant is the principal energy provider to the 45,000-student main campus, meeting approximately 97% of all energy demand. Pressurized steam is distributed throughout the campus through an extensive network of tunnels to provide both heating and cooling to approximately 500 instructional, research, and residential buildings located on more than 5,000 acres (2,000 ha). Electrical power is distributed through the same tunnels, making the campus relatively immune from outages due to weather. The primary fuel for T. B. Simon is natural gas; with the 1993 addition of Unit No. 4 the plant acquired the capability of burning biofuel. Simon's east smokestack identifies its operator with the letters M S U in white brick.


The Simon facility is the fifth power plant to be located on the Michigan State campus. Its six generating units were built in four stages:[1]

  • 1965 - Units No. 1 and No. 2 - Dry bottom, wall-fired (coal, natural gas)
  • 1973 - Unit No. 3 - Dry bottom, wall-fired (coal, natural gas)
  • 1993 - Unit No. 4 - Circulating fluidized bed (coal, natural gas, blended coal/biofuel)
  • 2006 - Unit No. 5 - Dry bottom, wall-fired (coal, natural gas)
  • 2006 - Unit No. 6 - Natural Gas fired turbine with dry low-NOx burner (natural gas)[2]

The $23 million 2006 addition was a Best In Class combined cycle plant consisting of a conventional pulverized-coal steam turbine/generator (Unit 5) and a natural gas combustion turbine with heat-recovery steam turbine (Unit 6). Unit 6 gives the Simon plant Black start capability in the event of a general power outage.[3]


Each successive cogeneration unit has been of higher electrical generating capacity than its predecessors. Unless otherwise noted, nameplate, summer, and winter capacities are the same:

  • Unit 1 - 12.5 MWh
  • Unit 2 - 12.5 MWh
  • Unit 3 - 15 MWh
  • Unit 4 - 21 MWh
  • Unit 5 - nameplate 24 MWh, summer/winter 23.8 MWh
  • Unit 6 - nameplate/winter 14.3 MWh, summer 12.6 MWh

Total nameplate capacity is 99.3 MWh.[2]


As of 2016, MSU's Simon Plant no longer burns coal, but operates entirely on natural gas.[4] Prior to 2016, MSU's Simon plant burned approximately 250,000 tons of low-sulfur Eastern coal, principally from Kentucky, and also burned biofuels to supplement coal.[5]


Units 1-5 are cogeneration units, which produced superheated steam at 900 psi which is used to drive a turbine/generator, emerging at 90 psi for distribution to campus buildings through a system of tunnels. Steam condensate is returned from campus to the plant via the same tunnels to be cleaned and reused. Since both usable steam and electricity are produced in a single process, the combined energy efficiency is approximately 60 percent, twice that of an electric-only unit.[6]

Unit 6 is an electric generator only with no cogeneration capacity.

Steam tunnels[edit]

There are more than 10 miles (16 km) of steam tunnels under the MSU campus. Access points are locked and unmarked, and University Ordinance 15.09 bans anyone from entering except for "performance of assigned university duties." James Dallas Egbert III, a gifted but troubled 16-year-old MSU student, entered the steam tunnels on August 15, 1979 with the intention of committing suicide there. News reports of his disappearance erroneously claimed that Egbert had gotten lost in the tunnels while playing a real-life version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Portions of the 2003 independent film Terror at Baxter U, written by MSU professor Bill Vincent, were filmed in the steam tunnels below Berkey Hall.

Emissions and environment[edit]

The Simon plant is operated under permits from the Michigan Department of Environment Quality.[7] Though Unit 4's fluidized bed combustion produces more efficient burning at a lower temperature and Units No. z5 and 6 only burn natural gas, the plant remains a significant emitter of several pollutants, and the principal source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on campus:

  • CO2 (Carbon dioxide) - 542,606 tons (2009)
  • SOx (sulfur oxides) - 2,812 tons (2009)
  • NOx (nitrogen oxides) - 811 (2009)
  • PM10 (particulates) - 12 tons (2009)[5] with MSU receiving a 2009 permit to burn up to 4,000 tons of wood and switchgrass annually. In 2011, the university requested permits covering an additional 24,000 tons of biofuel per year.[8]

In 2010, MSU was fined $27,000 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for two 2008 violations of its operating permit: the burning of wet coal, which resulted in excessive NOx emissions; and the improper blending of coal, which resulted in excess sulfur dioxide emissions.[9]

"MSU Beyond Coal," a campaign launched in 2010 in association with the Sierra Club, is lobbying the university to transition "away from coal to 100% clean, renewable energy sources."[10] Student activists are trying to leverage the school's own "Be Spartan Green" environmental-consciousness initiative[11] to pressure the university into committing to a target date for giving up coal.[12]

MSU joined the Chicago Climate Exchange in 2006, promising a 6% decrease in emissions by 2010 and a 15% decrease by 2015 (versus a 2000 benchmark). The plant receives emissions credits when operating Units 5 and 6 due to their clean-burning natural-gas boilers.[13]

While emission targets can also be addressed by managing demand, as of 2006 the MSU campus already had the lowest per-capita and per-square foot energy consumption in the Big Ten.[14]

"Green" power initiatives on the MSU campus include solar panels on the new MSU Surplus and Recycling Center (2009) and geothermal heating for the Life Sciences Addition (2010).[15]


The Simon plant supplanted the smaller Shaw Lane Power Plant, built in 1948 and located adjacent to Spartan Stadium. Coal was delivered to Shaw via a Pere Marquette railroad spur on the west side of the building. Shaw Lane was deactivated as a power plant in 1975, though it continued to house an electrical substation. The plant's 239-foot (73 m) smokestack bearing the letters M S C (for Michigan State College) in white brick was a campus landmark until it was deemed unsafe and demolished between May and June 2011.[16] It was announced in June 2018 that the remaining part of the plant would be reused as part of the construction of the $72.5 million STEM Teaching and Learning Facility.[17]

The North Campus Power Plant, which stood on what is now the lawn of the Administration Building, was built in 1921 and razed in 1966 after the Simon plant became operational. Its smokestack bore the letters M A C, for Michigan Agricultural College.

The 1904 Boiler House was the first designed from the outset to provide both steam and electric power (the MSU campus was electrified beginning in 1895). Some 4,100 feet (1,200 m) of underground steam and power distribution tunnels were built at the same time, the beginning of the infrastructure still in use. The 1904 Boiler House had a round, 125-foot (38 m) tall smokestack, and received its coal by means of a trestle over the Red Cedar River.

MSU's original 1882 Boiler House was built in the wake of a series of fires caused by the wood-fired stoves and furnaces used to heat early campus buildings. Electrical generation equipment was added in 1894. The 1882 Boiler House had a square, 60-foot (18 m) tall smokestack.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://pp.msu.edu/index.cfm/power-and-water/a-brief-history-of-the-tb-simon-power-plant/
  2. ^ a b 2009 EIA-860 http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/electricity/page/eia860.html
  3. ^ http://www.christmanco.com/portfolio.asp?id=68&cat_id=30
  4. ^ Gugiac, Anca. "Michigan State is Done Using Coal at Its Power Plant".
  5. ^ a b http://pp.msu.edu/index.cfm/power-and-water/energy-sources/facts-and-statistics/
  6. ^ http://pp.msu.edu/index.cfm/power-and-water/green-issues/
  7. ^ http://www.deq.state.mi.us/maers/emissions_query_results.asp?SRN=k3249&Facility_Name=michigan+state+university&EI_Year=&City=&County=&AQD_District=&cmdSubmit=Submit+Query
  8. ^ http://pp.msu.edu/index.cfm/power-and-water/green-issues/#sustainability
  9. ^ "MSU coal plant should own up to violations". StateNews.com. March 1, 2010. Retrieved May 18, 2012.
  10. ^ http://msubeyondcoal.wordpress.com/
  11. ^ http://www.bespartangreen.msu.edu/
  12. ^ The Green and the Black http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-5519-the-green-and-the-black.html
  13. ^ http://www.bespartangreen.msu.edu/content/documents/decisionaidtoreduceghgs.pdf
  14. ^ http://news.jrn.msu.edu/ejmagazine/2011/05/02/big-ten-mini-cities-create-big-impact/
  15. ^ http://www.energytransition.msu.edu/documents/EnergyInitiatives_History.pdf
  16. ^ "MSC smokestack demolition to begin". MSUToday.msu.edu. Michigan State University. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  17. ^ "MSU applauds state support for STEM teaching facility". MSUToday.msu.eud. Michigan State University. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  18. ^ http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/power.htm

External links[edit]