Mass. college awarded grant for feasibility study

By Luke Geiver | January 09, 2012

The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is seeking an energy alternative to natural gas. Through a $120,000 grant from the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management, MCLA has commissioned ARUP, a Cambridge, Mass. engineering and consulting firm, to perform a feasibility study to determine the benefits of a biomass cogeneration system.

James Stenakas, MCLA vice president of administration and finance, said that in 2010 the state performed an energy study on the campus, determining that the school was a strong candidate for a biomass power plant.

“The feasibility study is looking at what it would cost to replace a boiler, to put in the cogeneration unit, what kind of energy we could produce and what it would do to the campus environment,” Stenakas said. The study started around Christmas 2011 and will be complete in March. Stenakas also said the feasibility study will determine the physical dimensions of a future facility, the size of the boiler and a 30 percent design of the system, including some of the mechanical aspects of the future plant to allow the study to include a bid spec for the project. “At the end of the study, they can say with some certainty, ‘Here is the cost; here is the return on investment and here is the energy that you are going to produce; here is a factual component to help you understand this,’” he said.

The decision to move forward with the facility will ultimately be MCLA’s, and if a facility is built it could be complete by 2013. The high pressure boiler in the system would create enough steam to heat the 400,000-square-foot campus, and produce extra steam to partially power it, according to Stenakas. The Division of Capital Asset Management chose the consulting firm conducting the study, as well as the firm that conducted the original energy report on the school in 2010.

Although Stenakas is unsure what will happen in March, he does believe biomass is a good fit for the campus, regardless of how the facility might be financed. “This fits into this longer plan that we have,” he said. Under one scenario, he explained, the state might assess the energy savings the plant could bring and award the money to pay for the project based on the performance of the future system, effectively using the energy savings over time to pay for the new system. The team working on the study has already decided that a future system will use wood pellets over wood chips.