Uncertainty of Energy Markets Prods Colleges to Build Plants Fueled by Biomass

Uncertainty of Energy Markets Prods Colleges to Build Plants Fueled by Biomass 1

Jay Grabiec

Eastern Illinois U. is testing a new campus steam plant designed to burn wood chips, rather than coal. Like other biomass-based facilities, it is intended to rely on renewable fuel, reduce carbon emissions, and save money.

The past few years have been rough for many of the administrators who oversee college and university steam plants. Prices for oil and natural gas have spiked, tumbled, and spiked again, playing havoc with budget planning at institutions that rely on those ­fuels to make steam—essential for heating buildings in the winter and running chillers to provide air conditioning in the summer. At colleges that burn coal to make their steam, student activists have organized marches to protest