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UI officials hope to add four new generators to power plant

BY BRIANNA JETT | FEBRUARY 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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For now, the pavement near the University of Iowa Power Plant is covered in snow. This spring, though, officials hope to break ground on a new wing, replacing a snow-covered lot with the heat of four massive generators.

The utilities and energy management division of UI Facilities Management will take bids for the construction on Thursday. The total cost of the project is estimated to be around $16 million, including the purchase of equipment that will not be included in the bidding. Hopes are high that reasonable bids will allow the building to take shape as planned.

“We have spent a lot of time on the design of this system,” said Ben Fish, an assistant director of utilities and energy management. “I do think we have put a lot of effort and a lot of thought, not just into how to make the system more reliable, but we’ve determined a lot of details that make it easier for a contractor to bid the project.”

The four new generators will provide eight megawatts of backup power to the critical buildings on campus. When the UI loses power, these generators will help supply the necessary electricity, hot and chilled water to buildings on campus that need it, such as the hospital and research buildings.

“From a facilities standpoint, we need to protect our research,” said Steven Schlote, the facility manager at the UI Carver College of Medicine.

Ever since the campus lost power during the 2008 flood, officials have been considering ways to make power more reliable.

“It’s kind of been a long time coming,” Fish said. “It was kind of a result of the 2008 flood — we realized we had some vulnerability on the West Side of campus with no central backup power over there.”

Currently, the UI Hospitals and Clinics and a few of the research buildings on campus have diesel generators that will kick in during an emergency. The new generators at the plant will not replace them. However, the diesel generators often only provide electricity — not chilled and hot water.

“In most cases, that backup power doesn’t give us enough of a supply to ensure that we can continue supplying chilled water in the summertime or continue running the boilers in the wintertime,” Fish said. “We want to have enough backup power capacity to keep boilers and possibly chillers running in those seasons.”

For some of the buildings rising on campus, these new generators mean they don’t need an old diesel one.

“That eliminates the need to put diesel engines in some of the buildings,” said Glen Mowery, the director of the utilities and energy management.

Removing diesel engines is beneficial for two main reasons — diesel generators are more expensive and have higher emissions, which affect the environment.

The new generators are also designed for numerous purposes.

“As we install these backup systems, we are designing them for flexibility,” Mowery said.

This means that they can have a use even when there is not an emergency.

“If we can buy natural gas at a price that is advantageous to us, we could actually use them to save the campus money by using the generators and making our own electricity instead of buying it,” Fish said.


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