MSU transitions away from burning coal

Located on the south end of campus, Michigan State University's T.B. Simon Power Plant provides reliable energy to all of campus, and employs a number of strategies to reduce environmental impact while meeting the continually rising energy demand. In 2015, a confluence of changing energy costs, and new federal emission rules, enabled MSU to develop a plan for transitioning away from burning coal in a financially viable way, a move that significantly reduced emissions at the power plant and further established the university as a sustainable leader. 


April 8, 2015

At a live webcast titled "A Conversation with President Simon about MSU's Energy Future," MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon announced that MSU will stop burning coal by the end of 2016, with a majority of coal purchasing and burning ending in 2015."This represents a great opportunity for MSU to further reduce its environmental impact," said Simon, "The decision further helps MSU reliably meet its future energy needs in a sustainable fashion - and sustainability is one of our guiding institutional principles."

By April of 2015, three of the four boilers at the power plant burned natural gas, and the amount of coal burned at the plant had already been reduced by 65 percent since 2009-10."Transitioning to natural gas as our sole fuel source gives us a cleaner, stable power supply moving forward," said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant.

As part of the planning process, MSU examined the potential for the fourth boiler to burn natural gas. MSU determined it would cost less to restore the fourth boiler's capability to burn natural gas (less than $1 million) than to invest in new technologies to meet the new EPA rules and continue burning coal ($4.5 million with a recurring annual cost of $100,000).

September 2, 2015

More than 6,800 tons of coal were unloaded at Michigan State University’s power plant, marking the final train delivery as it began the transition to all natural gas over the next year.

Coal had been around MSU’s campus since 1855, when coal stoves warmed buildings before a central plant was created in 1900 to reduce fire risks. Coal had been used at the university’s T.B. Simon Power Plant since 1965, said Nate Verhanovitz, an engineer at the plant.

"It’s a step in the right direction and reduces our carbon footprint,” said Verhanovitz, “and given the environmental concerns with coal emissions, it’s absolutely wonderful to officially begin the transition to natural gas. This is good for MSU and the community.”

Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities for MSU’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, agreed. “The last train is really a symbol of the commitment to change the emission footprint for the campus,” Ellerhorst said. “We’ve been working with our supplier since the announcement in April… it’s really the symbolic end to what will be the end to burning coal here.


April 12, 2016

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon announced that Michigan State University was no longer burning coal in its on-campus power plant. 

Using natural gas instead of coal to power the campus results represented a reduction in CO2 emissions of about 32.4 percent. One other way to look at it: The average tree absorbs a net of about 1,000 pounds of CO2 over its lifetime. MSU’s use of natural gas has a similar impact on greenhouse gas reduction as planting about a half million trees each year.

“This is a very special day,” said Satish Udpa, MSU executive vice president for administrative services. “Special because it symbolizes the progress we’ve made in the last few years on how we consume energy, how we produce energy, and how we look around the corner in planning for meeting our energy requirements.”