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EMU nearly energy self-sufficient with new cogen plant

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University flipped the switch on its new co-generation plant Friday, making the university the first in Michigan to meet close to 100% of its campus energy needs.

Cogeneration is an efficient way to use natural gas. The plant burns natural gas to spin a turbine, which creates electricity. The hot exhaust is then funneled to a generator that creates steam heat. 

John Donegan is vice president in charge of facilities. He says the plant will be able to produce 98% of the heat used on campus, and 93% of the electricity.  

"This is the most economical, most environmentally friendly way to mass produce large amounts of electricity and steam," he says.

Even though EMU will have to pay $500,000 every year to DTE Energy to be on standby in the event of a plant failure, the university will still save a lot of money -- $50,000 a week in energy costs, for an annual savings of $2.8 million. That will bring EMU a return on investment in just under nine years.

EMU says the cogen unit will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 21,305 tons, which is equivalent to taking 10,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

Another benefit is, in the event of a power outage affecting DTE customers, EMU will be able to serve as a safe haven for people in the nearby community, since it will still be able to produce electricity and heat for its campus.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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