OU natural gas pipeline gets September completion date

Source: Athens News

Columbia Gas will begin constructing a medium-pressure natural gas pipeline for Ohio University starting on May 28, with hopes to complete construction by Sept. 30, OU facilities management officials said Thursday.

OU is gearing up to free itself of its reliance on coal as a heating and energy source by the end of 2015, but university officials have said that OU is on a tight timeline to get the necessary improvements done to completely convert to natural gas.

The pipeline will start at OU’s Ridges property, run underground and underneath the Hocking River from Dairy Lane to Shafer Street, go through/under OU’s Central Food Facility, and terminate at OU’s Lausche Heating Plant, according to facilities management officials on Thursday.

Environmentalists at OU and in the Athens community have spoken out against the need to build the pipeline. OUCAN (Ohio University Climate Action Now) has engaged in a petition and letter-writing campaign to OU administration to stop the building of the gas pipeline. One petition online from the group asks the OU administration and President McDavis to scrap the gas pipeline plans and “move directly from coal-fired energy generation to sustainable energy (such as geothermal, solar and wind power).”

Joe Lalley, senior associate vice president of information technologies and administrative services, said in an email Friday that the switch to natural gas at the end of 2015 will lower OU’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent. He also noted that natural gas emits 50 percent less CO2 than coal when burned, and that the conversion to gas will allow OU to meet federal EPA emission requirement standards that take effect next January.

The university in past statements has indicated it views natural gas as a necessary “bridge” between the coal era and total reliance on renewables.

However, activists and sustainable energy advocates have stated that while natural gas is indeed a cleaner fuel source than coal, the university isn’t working fast or hard enough to convert to sustainable energy.

Lalley said in the same email that OU generates steam to provide heat to facilities on campus, which “limits” OU’s options in the short-term for energy infrastructure improvement.

“The fuel sources used to make steam is generally limited to fossil fuel, nuclear, or deep hot rock,” Lalley stated. “Hot rock technology remains experimental in the United States. Nuclear technology remains very controversial and extremely expensive. This leaves fossil fuel as the current alternative, with natural gas as the best option available at this time.”

Lalley stated Thursday that he was “relieved” when he was notified of Columbia Gas’ pipeline construction timeline of May 28-Sept. 30. He previously had stated that he expected the pipeline to be finished in November.

However, he cautioned that OU still has a host of energy infrastructure improvements to complete before it can properly utilize the pipeline.

“We’re still very tight on our (2015) deadline at the moment,” he said.

Specifically, OU must convert its coal boiler engines into dual-fuel boilers that burn natural gas and ultra-low sulfur diesel. Temporary boilers will be installed this year, Lalley said, to deal with the university’s immediate energy needs this coming winter.

Neither an exact map of where the pipeline will go, or details of where ground will first be broke for the project, have been provided by OU despite a request on Friday. Grant Garber, OU’s associate general legal counsel, said Friday that OU needs time to evaluate the records of the pipeline’s exact location before it can disclose the information.

“We need additional time to evaluate whether these records fall under the state law exception for security and infrastructure records and/or FERC regulations restricting disclosure of critical energy infrastructure information,” he said, noting that OU will provide a response on the matter this week.

Loraine McCosker, chair of the Appalachian Ohio Group (AOG) of the Sierra Club and a member of the executive board of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, stated in a past interview that the Appalachian Ohio group’s position is that “right now Ohio University should be moving toward non-fossil fuel sources for its energy.”

Lalley said in the conference call that OU’s first goal is to get off coal by the end of 2015, and that after that, the university is “not done” continuing to improve its energy infrastructure with the goal of weaning itself completely off fossil fuels by 2075.