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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Sustainability December 9, 2014

An Inside Look: Smith’s Cogeneration Plant Makes Greener Energy for the Campus

At the center of Smith’s power plant on West Street is the key to greener energy production: a Solar-brand gas turbine that operates on the same principles as a jet engine.

As Chief Engineer for Facilities Management Chuck Dougherty explains, exhaust produced by the natural gas-fueled turbine creates steam that’s used to heat the campus in winter and chill water for air conditioning in the summer.

At full capacity, the turbine produces 3.5 megawatts of energy—enough to power the entire campus during the cold season, Dougherty says.

The increased efficiency of the “cogeneration” system, which began operating five years ago, has enabled Smith to reduce the amount of electricity it buys from outside sources by as much as 85 percent.

The college, which uses $6 million worth of energy annually to power, heat and cool the campus, actually began “exporting” excess electricity to the grid for the first time in December 2013.

Energy efficiency isn’t a new idea at Smith. The construction of the Central Power Plant in 1946 was designed to replace a system under which each individual building on campus was heated with coal or oil.

In 2006, Smith engineering students helped produce a feasibility study for a new cogeneration system. Before the turbine could be installed, asbestos had to be removed, old boilers replaced and other demolition work done at the power plant.

The new operation, which “went live” in 2008, generates some 20,000 pounds of steam per hour. Underground steam lines travel throughout the campus to provide steam for heat and hot water to Smith’s 110 campus buildings.

What’s the most important thing to know about the operation, we asked Dougherty on a recent inside tour of the co-gen plant?

“This plant is reliable,” he said.

A Facebook photo album allows you to see what we saw on the tour.