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UMD Moves Forward on New Energy System

Investment Would Increase Efficiency, Prepare Campus for Alternative Fuel Sources

By Maggie Haslam

power plant

UMD's power plant was last updated 25 years ago. Under a proposed plan, it and other aging campus energy infrastructure would be replaced as part of a long-term effort to make university operations environmentally sustainable.

Photo by John T. Consoli

The University of Maryland will seek the state’s approval to replace the campus’ aging power, boiler and chiller plants and key portions of the thermal distribution system as part of a long-term plan to pursue sustainable, fossil fuel-free energy alternatives. 

A $390 million investment in campus infrastructure, the NextGen Energy Program stands to significantly improve energy service on campus and result in immediate environmental impact, including cutting carbon emissions by 23% and reducing water consumption by 50% a year. 

“A carbon-neutral campus is a significant step, but now it’s time to set our sights on reducing UMD's dependency on fossil fuels,” said President Darryll J. Pines. "We are committed to a fossil fuel-free power plant under the NextGen Energy Program.”

The NextGen program, funded through UMD’s annual utilities budget, would be administered through a public-private partnership with Maryland Energy Impact Partners. It is planned to go before the Board of Public Works, comprising the governor, treasurer and comptroller, on May 15. 

The university’s current power plant, updated in 1999 and located along Baltimore Avenue near the intersection with Rossborough Lane, was designed to provide campus heating and 27 megawatts of power to campus. It runs at 60% capacity and is beyond its operating life, with aging parts that are no longer manufactured and a network of pipes prone to leaks (which appear as steam emanating from the ground around campus) and occasional disruptions in power, said Carlo Colella, vice president and chief administrative officer. 

“With over 50,000 staff students and faculty at the University of Maryland, our campus is akin to a small city,” said Colella. “When we see a disruption in energy services, that can impact research and interfere with campus operations, classes and student activities.” 

University administrators analyzed a range of options to meet the growing campus’ heating and cooling needs, with the NextGen program offering sustainability, affordability, reliability and the potential to meet campus climate change expectations. The improved central energy plant would decrease UMD’s use of fossil fuels by relying on a high-efficiency turbine that is renewable-fuel ready to generate both electricity and steam, positioning the university to take advantage of a variety of innovative fuel sources and technologies. 

“This proposal allows us to maximize the efficiency of our buildings and in turn have a much smaller plant; in my mind, it’s a path forward with the least deviation from existing technology while minimizing environmental impact,” said Minta Martin Professor Reinhard Radermacher, who directs the university’s Center for Environmental Energy Engineering. “In terms of pushing progress while being environmentally responsible, this is a realistic option and a good choice.”

The new program would surpass state standards, positioning the university to reach carbon neutrality in 2025, a full 20 years before state goals; the program is also eligible for an estimated $69 million to $79 million in funding from the Biden administration as part of its Inflation Reduction Act. 

After its approval, the NextGen program would begin with a campus assessment of energy use on a building-by-building basis and a phased reconstruction of the plant (on the current plant's site) and replacement of critical parts of the campus energy distribution systems.

Schools & Departments:

Division of Administration

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