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)
Country United States
Location Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Coordinates 42°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
Status Operational
Owner(s) Michigan State University
Thermal power station
Primary fuel Coal
Secondary fuel Natural gas
Tertiary fuel Biofuel
Cogeneration? Yes
Power generation
Units operational 6
Nameplate capacity 99.3 MW

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 and the largest on-campus coal-burning plant in the United States. 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 coal with natural gas as an alternative, although 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.

History[edit]

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]

Capacity[edit]

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]

Fuel[edit]

In a typical year, prior to 2016, MSU's Simon plant burns approximately 250,000 tons of low-sulfur Eastern coal, principally from Kentucky. The Simon plant is the largest consumer of coal among Big Ten universities.[4]

Coal is delivered by CSX over the adjacent Plymouth Subdivision, and the site has two storage sidings (added in 2010) in addition to four leads through the plant grounds. Cuts of up to five cars are positioned under a Carhoe II unloader by a GE 45-ton switcher painted in school colors. In 2011, the plant leased an EMD SW1 locomotive for handling longer cuts.

While some coal is delivered directly to the hopper feeding the coal conveyor which brings fuel into the plant, Simon also has extensive outdoor storage, both covered and uncovered. Front-end loaders are used in this part of the operation.

All six units can burn natural gas, which has historically been used when the price per BTU is competitive with coal. However, it is now also burned as part of a fuel-mix strategy to meet emission targets, including compensating for burning of biofuel in Unit No. 4. In recent years natural gas consumption has increased by a factor of three, with a peak of 887,000 Mcf (2009).

Experimental use of biofuels has been limited but is increasing,[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.[6] Biofuels must be blended with coal for use in the plant.

As of 2016, MSU's Simon Plant no longer burns coal, but operates entirely on natural gas.[7]

Technology[edit]

For cogeneration Units 1-5, in typical operation a coal conveyor delivers coal to a scale, where it is separated into 200-pound batches before being sent to a pulverizer. The coal powder is delivered pneumatically to boilers and burned to heat water in a steam generator. Superheated steam at 900 psi is initially 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.[8]

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. Maintenance of the tunnel system, portions of which are more than 90 years old, is an ongoing issue, with construction projects underway near Spartan Stadium, Breslin Center, the Kellogg Hotel complex, Central Services, and the Music Building in 2011 and additional projects in the planning cycle.[9]

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.[10] 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]

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.[11]

"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."[12] Student activists are trying to leverage the school's own "Be Spartan Green" environmental-consciousness initiative[13] to pressure the university into committing to a target date for giving up coal.[14]

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.[15]

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.[4]

"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).[16]

Predecessors[edit]

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 continues 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 its demolition in June, 2011.

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.[17]

See also[edit]

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