Upstate New York College Achieves Energy Independence

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff December 21, 2004

Siemens Building Technologies, Inc., joined by New York Gov. George Pataki, recently unveiled a power project at an upstate New York community college that has made the college energy independent, partially by converting methane gas from a local landfill into electricity.

The project is expected to save Hudson Valley Community College in Troy more than $1.3 million in energy costs while paying for the construction, operation and maintenance of the plant over a 15-year period. The college has 17 buildings and 11,400 students. It is the first college in New York State to achieve energy independence by using landfill gas to generate its own supply of electricity.

“This project is an outstanding example of how New York is taking the next step to promote and develop clean and renewable energy so that we can protect our environment, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and encourage economic growth through new energy technologies,” Governor Pataki said. “We’ve set the ambitious goal of making New York the nation’s leader in renewable energy and this project marks another milestone in achieving that goal.”

Siemens installed four cogeneration units, totaling 4.2 megawatts, that are producing electricity and capturing waste heat to supplement campus heating and cooling.

One of the units is powered by methane gas transported via a 3,100-foot pipeline from a municipal landfill. The 54-acre landfill was closed about six years ago. As all landfills do, it continues to produce methane gas as its waste decays. The other three generators are powered by natural gas. Together, the four generators provide sufficient electric capacity to meet the college’s needs even if one of the units is out of service for maintenance or repair.

The project not only allows the college to disconnect from the local utility electric grid, but also improves the environment by utilizing natural and landfill gas. These gases produce far fewer emissions than other power-generating fuels such as coal or oil. In addition, methane gas that is simply vented into the atmosphere and not burned contributes to the greenhouse gas problem. The project will cost about $8.4 million. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), assisted with a $500,000 in funding. NYSERDA awards grants for qualifying energy conservation projects as one means to manage the state’s energy demand. The college also received a $50,000 grant that will be used to pay for web-based metering of electricity use in all campus buildings.

College officials and Siemens are studying whether to tap into another community landfill in the future for access to more methane.

Officials said that because the college is now electric energy independent, it could become an emergency shelter for the community in the event of a blackout on the electric grid, such as the one that occurred in the Northeast in August of 2003.

The Siemens partnership with Hudson Valley also includes a classroom overlooking the generators that will be used by students and visitors to learn more about alternative and emerging energy technology.

“Hudson Valley Community College’s new cogeneration facility is a perfect example of the great things that can happen when city, county and state governments work in partnership with the private sector to achieve a common goal,” said Hudson Valley President Dr. Marco Silvestri. “This project makes good environmental, economic and educational sense, and we are proud to be using a cutting-edge technology that is both cost-effective and environmentally sound.”

The Siemens contract with Hudson Valley is a performance-based agreement. Siemens installs the cogeneration, guarantees energy cost savings and maintains the units.

Of the four internal combustion generators, an 825-kilowatt unit is powered by the landfill gas. Two 1,350-kilowatt units and one 770-kilowatt unit operate on natural gas. A 2,250-kilowatt diesel-powered unit was also installed as a backup.

The plant occupies its own 8,000 square foot building. This includes the 1,000 square foot classroom.