Duke University gets cold feet for 21 MW CHP plant after environmental objections

Dive Brief:

  • Duke University officials are reconsidering plans for a $55 million combined heat and power (CHP) project they announced in May, Southeast Energy News reports.

  • In May, the university announced a partnership with Duke Energy Carolinas to build a 21 MW gas-fired CHP plant on the university’s Durham, North Carolina, campus.

  • The efficiency of CHP plants offer environmental benefits over other fossil generation, but some environmentalists objected to Duke’s plan, and the university says it is "not determined" to build the facility, according the media outlet.

Dive Insight:

Combined heat and power plants offer environmental benefits by making use of heat that would otherwise be wasted. But with renewable resources becoming more prevalent, some advocates are looking for greater benefits, such as new power source enabling the retirement of existing fossil fuel generation onsite.

Those concerns have entered into Duke University’s plans for a 21 MW CHP plant on its Durham campus.

Acknowledging that adding a gas-fired generator might have little environmental upside, Duke University officials now say they are not committed to CHP project.

“I have never argued this is an environmental breakthrough,” said Tallman Trask III, executive vice president of the university, said during a forum on the project, according to Southeast Energy News.

“We are not determined to do this deal,” Trask said. “We are determined to look at it, because in one form it’s very interesting and potentially transformative. In another form, we’re not interested. Right now I think it’s 50-50 that we’ll ever get there.”

The university and Duke Energy announced the CHP project last month, which would be connected to an existing Duke Energy substation located on the campus. The plant would be one of the most efficient in Duke's fleet, the utility said, and would also produce steam for the university to use in water heating. 

CHP growth in the United States slowed in the last decade, but the resource still represents about 8% of the nation's electric capacity, at roughly 83 GW.


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Top image credit: Matt Phillips