STILLWATER – Oklahoma State University is moving forward with a plan officials say will allow the university to cut its carbon footprint and save millions of dollars in utility costs.
A deal between OSU and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. that would place a new 60-megawatt wind farm near Blackwell received approval from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in late February. OSU officials hope to see the project come on line later this year.
OG&E already operates the 101-megawatt OU Spirit wind farm near Woodward to supply electricity to the University of Oklahoma.
OSU officials announced the project late last year. They say the project will allow the university to take down its 62-year-old cogeneration power plant at the corner of Hall of Fame Avenue and Monroe Street.
Rick Krysiak, the director of OSU’s Physical Plant, said the university expects to see $20 million to $30 million in savings over the 20-year life of the project.
Up to now, Krysiak said, the university’s power plant has had the capacity to produce about a third of the electricity the university uses through the use of seven steam-driven turbines.
Typically, he said, the university only uses the plant in cases of emergency – for example, if a tornado is in the area, he said.
At all other times, it makes more economic sense to buy the university’s power from OG&E, he said. Even when it’s being operated as efficiently as possible, Krysiak said, the university’s power plant is simply too old to be an efficient option.
For about 10 months, the university looked at the possibility of building another power plant similar to the one it uses now. But during that time, OG&E approached university officials about the possibility of switching to wind power.
“Naturally, we were very interested,” he said.
In addition to cost savings, the university will also be able to reduce its carbon footprint by about 66 percent, Krysiak said. The electricity the university buys now comes from coal-fired power plants, he said, making that power the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases.
While wind power will provide electricity to the campus, the university plans to build a boiler and chiller facility to provide heat, steam and air conditioning to the campus. That plant will be powered with natural gas, he said, meaning the university will be taking advantage of two of the most abundant resources in Oklahoma.
“We’ve got the best of both worlds,” he said.
The project isn’t OSU’s first venture into energy cost saving. In January, OSU officials announced they had saved $17.5 million on utility costs since the university implemented its energy savings plan in 2007.
Krysiak said the university has realized much of that savings by doing things like shutting off lights and equipment at night.
In a Jan. 9 letter to the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education and presidents of Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin asked all public colleges and universities statewide to implement similar energy usage plans.
In the letter, Fallin says higher education “accounts for the largest energy consumption in the state,” meaning colleges and universities have a major role to play in cost-cutting efforts.
Fallin estimates the state could save $290 million over 10 years by implementing a statewide energy-savings plan.