Editorial: The energy center project shouldn’t have gone public

Our View


Eastern needs a new power plant, and the Renewable Energy Center project was postponed on Nov. 17 because of the economy.


If the economy is to blame for the delay, then administrators should have anticipated the problem and not announced the plan at all.

President Bill Perry announced on Nov. 17 that the Renewable Energy Center project would be put on hold for economic reasons.

The $40 million project would have replaced the current steam plant, which was built around 1925.

A replacement for the current steam plant is undeniably needed – it has experienced recent breakdowns, one of which was the failure of coal boilers last winter that resulted in an increase of heating costs – and with the announcement of the energy center came anticipation of a project that would greatly benefit Eastern.

So, if the economy is really the reason the energy center is no longer a go, the university should not have announced its plans for the project as early as it did.

The economy has been in a poor condition long before the university announced its plans in the beginning of November; however, the university is acting like the poor economy was a surprise.

“During the development of the project, an unforeseen factor, the current economic downturn, has adversely affected the feasibility of the project,” Perry said in a statement. “Specifically, credit markets have in the past few weeks considerably tightened.”

Jill Nilsen, vice president for external relations, said Eastern decided to announce its plans to build a new energy center despite the condition of the economy for several reasons.

“We had done the planning,” she said. “We had a contract with Honeywell. We had some pricing in place that we knew would be guaranteed through the middle of January. The hope was things would get better by now, but they haven’t.”

“It just makes good fiscal sense to wait a little bit longer in time,” Nilsen added.

This should have made sense at the beginning of November.

The economy doesn’t improve overnight. Therefore, the university should have acknowledged that a project of this size may not go through with the current economy and held off on announcing it. False hopes would not have been raised.

Now, the university appears unstable, and let’s hope our business arrangements don’t deteriorate because of that image.

Nilsen said the energy center project is delayed for now and in Perry’s statement he did not mention when the project would be re-enacted. When it is re-enacted and the Renewable Energy Center gets the green light, we hope the university is certain about the project when the announcement is made.