The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

New steam plant needed

It has been referred to as a “ticking time bomb” and Gary Reed, director of facilities and planning, said replacing the current steam plant is mission critical. Whether that happens, only time will tell.

Reed, along with Jeff Cooley, vice president for business affairs, and Jill Nilsen, vice president for external affairs, just returned from Washington D.C., where they lobbied congressmen on this very issue.

“Our hope is to identify state, federal, local dollars and package that together towards a new steam plant,” Nilsen said.

Although the current plant does meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, the problem is associated with the plant’s scrubbers, which allow the plant to remove pollutants from smoke or gas caused by high sulfur levels.

The scrubbers have been broken for three years, leaving Eastern to import more expensive low-sulfur coal from Indiana just to control air emissions. The estimated $13.7 million that Cooley said it would take to repair the 1928 plant outweighs the cost of constructing a new plant.

Parts of the boiler plant are more than 80 years old, and Reed said replacements to the old parts just aren’t available.

“We are keeping the plant running day-to-day at this point,” Reed said. “It is a complex mechanical system that is mission critical to campus operations. Knowing its condition and age is not comforting.”

In regards to how much longer the current plant will be able to operate sufficiently, Reed said he cannot determine that with any confidence since the plant has outlived its expected life already.

The new plant proposed in Washington would be a coal-operated power plant, would be located behind Greek Court, would provide a cleaner environment and a more stable heating and cooling system, and would be one of new design concepts, allowing Eastern to return to cheaper, plentiful Illinois coal. It would also produce electricity in addition to steam.

While the Illinois Coal Board said it would match 30 percent of the costs, Reed said they have been requesting funding on the steam plant for four years now, but to no avail.

Among the congressmen the three worked with was State Rep. Tim Johnson and according to Johnson’s press secretary, Phil Bloomer, the proposal was something that Johnson advocated enthusiastically.

“We’ve been talking to the administration (at Eastern) for some time; can’t promise anything. It’s definitely on the congressman’s radar,” Bloomer said.

But an official in Johnson’s office said that every year 11 different appropriations bills are submitted and even if it gets past committee, it still has to be compromised within the senate once the bill process is done around July. So it could be a year before Eastern finds out if it get the funding or not.

Yet, due to EPA regulations the plant would have to meet, Cooley said it could be three or four years before the plant could be completed.

“Today EPA requirements are much more stringent,” Cooley said. “When we go and talk to congressmen, we talk to them about the jobs that will be created, about cleaning up the environment, about how good it will be for the economy and for the university.”

If that funding is secured, Reed said the next process is selecting a designer and starting the permitting process. Following that, bid documents will be prepared and the project competitively bid.

After construction, operations can still not take place until start-up and systems commissioning occur, which basically make sure everything is operating well with the new design.

If the existing plant should fail, the only other alternative Reed has is to burn extremely expensive natural gas. Until that happens, all Reed and the university can do is wait and maintain the current plant.

New steam plant needed

New steam plant needed

Kevin Kenealy/Daily Eastern News Charles Plumber inserts the “gun” into an open pipe at the steam power plant that’s used to burn oil. Plumber, who has been working at the plant for 20 years, said he still doesn’t know everything about it.


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