Southern Oregon University explores possibility of biomass system
A $250,000 grant from the USDA to Southern Oregon University could lead to a 1.2 MW woody biomass cogeneration system on the university campus. If built, the power plant could generate 100 percent of the current campus electrical need and 70 percent of SOU’s heat.
“This is a very exciting opportunity for SOU,” says University President Mary Cullinan. “SOU is strongly committed to environmental sustainability. Our plan is to make the campus climate neutral by 2050, so biomass may be one option for us.”
The grant will pay for a study to determine the feasibility of using slash and other byproducts from nearby forests, wood pellets or other biomass fuel to generate heat and electricity on the Ashland campus. The study will also confirm that the recommended system will meet Department of Environmental Quality and other regulatory agency requirements.
According to SOU Facilities Management and Planning Director Drew Gilliland, the timing is right for SOU to consider a new energy system. “Two of our four steam heat boilers are nearing the end of their useful life. If we were to make this change, the remaining two boilers would be converted to back up heat generation when needed.”
“This grant is great news for Southern Oregon University and the future of biomass energy in the region,” said US Senator Jeff Merkley. “I am a strong supporter of investment in alternative forms of energy, and the woody-biomass co-generation system has the potential to be efficient, effective, and environmentally friendly.”
“The City of Ashland’s Electric Department is excited about SOU’s opportunity to build a biomass generation facility in our town,” says Acting Assistant City Administrator Lee Tuneberg. “We look forward to working with the university as they develop this alternate energy source that could benefit the college and the residents of Ashland.” SOU is the largest customer of the Ashland’s municipally owned electric utility.
As part of the study, Gilliland says SOU will engage the community in a discussion on producing local energy through co-generation. He estimates the construction cost of a woody-biomass plant on campus would be approximately $12 million.