How a Former Heating Plant Became an On-Site Utility

April 19, 2018

A 106-year-old heating plant on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus is finding new life as a co-generation combined heat and power utility.

Shut down in 2000, the former Old Main Heating Plant – now known as the Main Energy Plant – features a new 22.8 MW combustion turbine and heat recovery system to replace the 1912 facility’s coal- and gas-fired boilers. The power plant’s gas turbine generates electric power and steam to heat and cool most of the Minneapolis campus. The new alternative energy utility is also 83% energy efficient – more than double the efficiency of its coal-fired predecessor.

Reinventing Old Main was a key component of the university’s climate action and energy conservation plan to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020. It will reduce the university’s net carbon footprint by 10-13%, save roughly $2 million annually in utility operating costs and provide a source of energy that won’t be affected by any disruptions to the local grid. 

“The Main Energy Plant allows the Twin Cities campus to operate as an energy island so that critical University services at hospitals, clinics, and research facilities can be maintained if there are external outage events,” explains Jerome Malmquist, Director of Energy Management at the University of Minnesota.

Renovating the 39,600-square-foot plant cost about $112.9 million, according to the university’s Capital Planning and Project Management department. UMN received a $2 million rebate from the CenterPoint Energy Conservation Improvement Program and $10 million from a 2012 state bonding bill to defray some of the cost. The plant will eventually expand into a full-service campus facility that will provide chilled water for air conditioning.