PD Writes: Old-fashioned Ohio coal still being burned at tech-savvy University Circle institutions

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Mon, 08/09/2010 - 20:55.

This excellent article on the MCCO coal burning powerplant in University Circle - Old-fashioned Ohio coal still being burned at tech-savvy University Circle institutions - by the Plain Dealer's John Funk speaks for itself... and is truthful to the best of my knowledge... and I learned some important new information. Thank you John Funk!  I've included the entire PD article below in the interest of public safety.

Thank you Mattie and the Sierra Club for making all this happen - love the conclusion... "The solutions are not as forth coming as some might think," Reitman said. "You can't just put up a wind turbine and call it warm." Now to get a timeline in writing from MCCO for all aspects of their planning to move off coal, WITH CITIZEN INVOLVEMENT!

Old-fashioned Ohio coal still being burned at tech-savvy University Circle institutions

John Funk, The Plain Dealer

The tall smokes stacks at the back of the Case Western Reserve University campus belong to the Medical Center Co., a non-profit that has been burning coal for nearly 80 years to heat CWRU and much of University Circle.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cleveland's University Circle is world famous for its cultural, medical and educational achievements. It's the place where the speed of light was first measured in 1928, where cutting edge research into new energy sources is ongoing, and the place that a world-class museum and orchestra call home.

University Circle is also a community of institutions that burn Ohio coal for heating.

Since 1932, the Medical Center Co., a non-profit company whose members are the institutions themselves, has burned coal to send steam heat through underground tunnels to most of the University Circle buildings. The company also has some gas-fired boilers.

The Medical Center Co. burns about 44,000 tons of coal a year. And its tall stacks pump the same kind of contaminants into the air as a power company.

Environmental groups led by the Sierra Club of Ohio want that to end.

"It's a polluting facility, " said Mathew Reitman, field organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

"It impacts people's health, the neighborhoods. This is a steam plant the serves Case Western Reserve University, a regional leader in clean energy research," he said. "You've got a cancer hospital there. It's just such a paradox to have such a polluting source next to a center for health."

CWRU is not alone among universities who still burn coal. Ohio University, Dennison University, and Oberlin College also have coal-fired plants, said Reitman.

The Medical Center Co. agrees that it should stop burning coal but is nevertheless trying to renew its air permits with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to continue coal burning.

The public will have a chance to talk about this from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. today at the Cleveland Public Library (Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch), 1962 Stokes Boulevard, when the EPA and the Cleveland Division of Air Quality will hold an "information session" at the library.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing, things are going to change, said Robert Brown, CWRU's treasurer and the chairman of the Medical Center Co.'s board of directors.

"We are moving away from coal," said Brown in an interview Monday. "For 40 years we have met increasing demand by adding gas boilers. We haven't added any coal boilers.

"We will completely phase out coal. We have a planning process in place and we expect by the end of 2011 to have a timetable in place."

Michael Hisen, president of Medical Center Co., said the company's air permit expired at the end of 2003 and has been rolling over annually as the EPA continued to talk with the company

"We've been looking at this for the last few years. We want to use an integrated approach, maybe biomass, or other renewables. We are looking at a comprehensive, strategic plan," he said in an interview.

The Medical Center Co. supplies three forms of energy, power that the company buys wholesale from Cleveland Public Power, chilled water for air conditioning and steam for heat, he said.

Brown and Hisen said the company has considered renovating the existing plant located on Circle Drive behind the CWRU campus as well as building a new steam plant at several nearby locations.

But before that happens, the board has asked its member institutions to develop robust energy efficiency plans in order to cut back on heating and cooling demands, said Brown, a former investment banker and the brother of Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

"Each of our customers, who are our members, has had a program to support conservation in their own houses," said Brown. "As the Medical Center Co., we are looking to become the central driver to help lower demand. Doing that is critical so we know how much capacity to build in a new plant."

Reitman agrees with the importance of first lowering demand and said the Sierra Club has not legally intervened in the case in part because it believes University Circle wants to get out of coal.

But it won't be easy, he said.

" The solutions are not as forth coming as some might think," Reitman said. "You can't just put up a wind turbine and call it warm."

Thanks PD and John Funk

This was a very informative article -- most of the info was not new to me,  but I was happy to see it in print in the PD because many people still consider the PD the most credible news source. Now when I talk to some of my more skeptical friends and relatives about my concerns about the MCCO plant  they will take me seriously.