MSU Simon Power Plant
T.B. Simon Power Plant is a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Michigan State University on MSU campus in East Lansing, Michigan.
Following years of student protests, MSU said in April 2015 that it is taking steps to stop burning coal by the end of 2016. The power station will be fueled by natural gas.
- Owner: Michigan State University
- Parent Entity: State of Michigan
- Plant Nameplate Capacity: 61.0 MW (Megawatts)
- Units and In-Service Dates: 12.5 MW (1965), 12.5 MW (1966), 15.0 MW (1974), 21.0 MW (1993)
- Location: 65 Service Rd., East Lansing, MI 48824
- GPS Coordinates: 42.7173, -84.4844
- Electricity Production: 315,809 MWh (2005)
- Coal Consumption:
- Coal Source:
- Number of Employees:
- CO2 Emissions: 602,055 tons (2006)
- SO2 Emissions: 3,032 tons (2002)
- SO2 Emissions per MWh: 19.20 lb/MWh
- NOx Emissions: 1,340 tons (2002)
- Mercury Emissions:
Rated at 61 megawatts, the first three units were built in 1955, 1966, and 1974. In 2006, MSU added another coal electric turbine, as well as a natural gas system. The plant burns 250,000 tons of coal a year, making it the largest on-campus coal-burning plant in the country.
A website for the plant, which provides electricity and steam for the campus, describes the plant as follows:
- The steam produced by the Power Plant provides energy for heat in the winter, cooling (through the use of chillers) in the summer, and also turns turbines that spin generators to produce electricity year round. In an average year, the power plant will generate 250 billion watts of electricity while the boilers will consume 250,000 tons of coal, 340 million cubic feet of natural gas and 450 million gallons of water. Five steam turbine generator sets, one gas turbine generator set and one heat recovery steam generator are all housed in the power plant. Campus chilled water is served from a central chilled water plant, (not at the central power plant) and from individual chillers located around campus. The T.B. Simon Power Plant is a co-generating facility, generating electricity from the steam as it flows out to heat the campus. The co-generation system operates at approximately 60 percent efficiency, as compared to a conventional electric plant operating at 30 percent efficiency. Maintaining its own power plant allowed MSU's main campus to avoid losing power during the Northeast Blackout of 2003, which affected 50 million people across Canada and the United States.
Student protests for MSU to be coal-free
In October 2010, students at MSU said they want the state university to live up to its school color and Go Green. To do that, students argue, the T.B. Simon coal powered electric production facility on campus needs to go. The planned protest is part of college groups across the country holding similar protests to draw attention to the use of coal-powered power plants on various college campuses across the country. Another event event was held Oct. 12 at Iowa State University over the Iowa State University Power Plant.
In May, the University of Illinois announced it would stop the use of coal-powered plants by 2017. Critics argue the plant spews tons of dangerous chemicals into the air including mercury, lead, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. They also argue particulates in the smoke increase asthma issues and are linked to lung diseases. In addition, the left over remains of the burnt coal, called coal ash, is a toxic sludge of condensed toxins and heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury. TheBigGreen.net, an online student publication at MSU, reported on the coal plant last year. In that report it noted that “according to [MSU] reports, in the first quarter of 2008 the power plant reported 7.58 percent excess sulfur dioxide emissions and 4.75 percent excess nitrogen oxide emissions. These are classified as “high priority violations” by the Environmental Protection Agency, and join 2007 violations of a lesser caliber that were resolved without monetary penalties.” The violations ended up costing MSU $27,000 in fines in early 2010. And while students and faculty testified that MSU should be forced to adopt a renewable energy plan as part of the consent agreement between the state and the university, officials at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment said it was too late to put that plan into the consent agreement.
Coal waste from coal ash has also become a major environmental concern, with experts discovering the toxins leaching from containment pits into water supplies or containment locations bursting. On MSU's coal ash, a student with Sierra Club said: “No one in our group has been able to figure out where it goes.” The Lansing Board of Water and Light, which provides electricity and steam service to Lansing and many of the surrounding communities — including East Lansing — burns about 5,000 tons of coal a day, and says the coal ash from the BWL plants are either put in a state-approved dump or sold as a component for cement. MSU also sells its coal ash to cement manufacturers, according to a report by The Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. The use of coal ash in cement and construction has come under some scrutiny, with experts divided on whether or not the ash is an effective component for cement and few studies completed to date about leaching of various chemicals from the ash contained in concrete. Some argue the cured — or hardened — cement traps the toxins in the mixture. Others say that because cement slowly breaks down over time, that would mean the toxic chemicals and heavy metals contained in the coal ash cement would eventually be released into the environment.
Activists realize that switching from coal burning to fully renewable resources over night is not possibly, but they note that the facility has already received upgrades to allow it to use natural gas, which burns far cleaner than does coal. The Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at MSU report explores the use of electricity at Spartan Stadium, a renewable energy expert says the university could reduce the necessity of coal power for the stadium with just a single one megawatt wind power turbine operating at 15 percent. Currently, MSU burns 480,000 pounds of coal to keep the stadium lit up and the electricity on. The problem, the expert notes, is cost: the turbine would would cost an estimated $3 to $4 million.
In February 2011, the MSU student government passed a resolution saying MSU needs to transition off coal energy plants and use renewable energy sources instead. On October 19, about 60 activists with MSU Beyond Coal and MSU Greenpeace conducted a flash mob protest in front of the MSU Administration building. The protestors put on surgical masks as they urged MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and the Board of Trustees to convert the campus to 100% clean energy. On October 20, three MSU Greenpeace activists were arrested after refusing to leave President Simon's office when it closed for the day. 
By April 2015 three of the four boilers at the power plant burned natural gas. That month MSU said it would cost less to restore the fourth boiler’s capability to burn natural gas (less than $1 million) versus investing in new technologies to meet the new EPA rules and continue burning coal ($4.5 million with a recurring annual cost of $100,000). The power station will be run on natural gas by the end of 2016.
Articles and Resources
- "MSU to stop burning coal at campus power plant," MSU, Apr 8, 2015
- Todd Haywood, "MSU students plan protest over coal plant on campus" The Michigan Messenger, October 13, 2010.
- "Physical Plant: Power and Water," Michigan State University, accessed March 2009
- "MSU Students Want A "Coal Free" Campus" WLNS, Feb. 9, 2011.
- "Flash mob begins protest against coal plant" The State News, Oct. 20, 2011.
- "Three MSU Greenpeace members arrested, protesting coal power plant" Lansing State Journal, Oct. 21, 2011.
- Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed Jan. 2009.
- Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
- Facility Registry System, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accessed Jan. 2009.
- Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed Feb. 2009.
- NETL Coal Power Plant Database, National Energy Technology Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 2007.
- AirData Query Database, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, accessed April 2009.
Related SourceWatch Articles
- Campus coal plants
- Existing U.S. Coal Plants
- Michigan and coal
- United States and coal
- Global warming
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