Southern Oregon University landed a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture to build 1.2 megawatt woody biomass co-generation system on the university campus.
The power plant could generate 100 percent of the current campus electrical need and 70 percent of SOU's heating requirements.
The aim of the study is to determine whether it is possible to use by-products from nearby forests, wood pellets or other biomass fuel to generate heat and electricity on the Ashland campus. The study will also make sure that the recommended system will meet Department of Environmental Quality and other regulatory agency requirements.
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"This is a very exciting opportunity for SOU," wrote University President Mary Cullinan in a press release. "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."
As SOU is the largest customer of the Ashland's municipally owned electricity utility, the City of Ashland's Electric Department is excited about SOU's opportunity to build a biomass generation facility in the town. The department is positive about the alternate energy source that could benefit the college and the residents of Ashland.
"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 university is expecting the imminent expiration of two of its four heat boilers; hence it seems the decision to switch to biomass has arrived at an apt time. Apparently, the other two boilers will be converted to backup generation.
As part of the study, SOU will engage the community in a discussion on producing local energy through co-generation said Drew Gilliland, SOU Facilities Management and Planning Director. He estimates the construction cost of a woody-biomass plant on campus would be approximately $12 million.