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2011 News Releases

New Longwood heating plant enables university to be even more fuel-efficient

September 12, 2011

A ceremonial ribbon for the new heating plant was cut A ceremonial ribbon for the new heating plant was cut by (from left) Richard Bratcher, vice president of Facilities and Real Property; Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash; President Patrick Finnegan; Rita Hughes, vice rector of the Board of Visitors; John Russell, interim superintendent of heating plant operations; and Bob Chambers, project manager for Capital Planning and Construction.

Nearly 100 percent of the Longwood University campus' heat and hot water are now supplied from biomass fuel, a local and renewable fuel source, thanks to the new biomass heating plant that was officially opened Sept. 8.

Longwood has practiced sustainability by heating with biomass fuel (sawdust) for nearly 29 years. That practice will be even more fuel-efficient thanks to the new heating plant, which began operating in January 2011 and replaces a heating plant that dates to 1938. Longwood is the only public institution of higher education in Virginia and one of only two state agencies that burns biomass for heating fuel.

"One of the many things that impressed me about Longwood since I became a Lancer 15 months ago is our long running commitment to sustainability and renewable energy," Longwood President Patrick Finnegan said just before he and other dignitaries, including Virginia's secretary of education, Laura Fornash, cut the ceremonial ribbon.

"We have been burning woody biomass for our heating heat and hot water needs since 1983, which is longer than most of our students have been alive. You might say we have been green since before green was cool. This new heating plant further strengthens our commitment. Burning sawdust and wood chips provides a number of significant benefits.

"It supports the local Southern Virginia economy by purchasing sawdust from local sawmills and keeps our energy dollars in Virginia. It saves the university and the state a tremendous amount of money. Current annual energy savings are in excess $2.8 million when compared to burning oil. The impact to our environment is far less than if we were burning oil. The carbon cycle of trees allows this process to be carbon-neutral because a tree will absorb as much carbon during its lifetime as it emits when it is burned. The sulfur dioxide emissions, which are a precursor to acid rain and respiratory illnesses, are also drastically reduced. Even the ash resulting from burning the biomass is composted and re-used on campus as fertilizer."

Richard Bratcher, Longwood's vice president of Facilities and Real Property, called the heating plant "one of the most unique and significant facilities that we have on campus. This building is a shining representation of ingenuity, sustainability, and a vision for tomorrow."

Secretary Fornash praised Longwood's commitment to sustainability. "Governor McDonnell would be particularly pleased with the tremendous environmental impact and ongoing cost efficiencies this new plant will bring to Longwood and the larger community," she said at the ribbon cutting. "As the only higher education institution in Virginia burning biomass, it is a model for alternative renewable fuel usage for all of our higher education institutions...While I am here to help officially open the new heating plant, it is also appropriate to recognize Longwood for its longstanding commitment to sustainability."

The new heating plant was built by Branch & Associates Inc. of Roanoke and was designed by RMF Engineering Inc. of Baltimore. The overall cost of the project was $14.1 million.

The facility, on Barlow Field where Longwood's field hockey team once played, has two storage silos for the sawdust that is Longwood's primary heating fuel. The side-by-side silos are enclosed in the brick façade building. They have a combined storage capacity of 40,000 cubic feet, or approximately one and a half weeks of fuel. The facility also has the capacity for a third boiler to be added later to help with peak demand periods and accommodate for future growth.

One of the boilers in the new plant is new, and the other boiler was moved there in April 2011 from the old plant located immediately to the west of the new facility. This boiler was purchased in 2005. "The boilers we use today are far more efficient than the boilers we used in 1983 when we first began burning woody biomass," said Bob Chambers, project manager for the university's Capital Planning and Construction Department, who oversaw the construction of the heating plant. Each boiler can produce 20,700 pounds of saturated steam per hour.

"The new biomass heating plant provides us the ability to eventually diversify our fuel source and be able to accept small wood chips as well as sawdust," said Bratcher. "This capability will allow us to remain cutting edge and one step ahead of the markets."

The sawdust, mostly pine and some hardwood, is a byproduct from local mills. Longwood can therefore spend its energy dollar locally in Southern Virginia on a renewable energy source. Burning the sawdust is not only cost-effective but ecologically responsible, due to its hazardous emissions being lower than gas, oil and coal.