UW Oshkosh goes coal free

Amber Brockman, News Editor

UW Oshkosh will be going coal free and making the switch to natural gas after the last load of coal arrives at UWO on March 12.

“This move away from coal is important because it reduces our CO2 emissions, improves air quality and saves our facilities, heating plant and grounds staff time and money,” UWO campus sustainability coordinator Brad Spanbauer said. “Additionally, all of the equipment and machinery that was needed to move coal in the heating plant uses electricity, so we will have a lower electric bill at the heating plant.”

Along with this, trucks and other gasoline-powered equipment used to move coal and residual ash to and from campus will no longer be burned, which is also better for the environment.

“Any coal remaining in the bunker will be burned before the end of the month and then the heating plant will switch to using 100% natural gas,” Spanbauer said.

Allison Russotto
The UWO heating plant burns about 25 tons of coal per day for approximately 100 days during the winter months.

Central Heating/Chiller Plant Superintendent Dan Biese said the renovations will cost about $2 million.

“The boilers already can run on natural gas, so the only renovations that will be taking place is the removal of all of the equipment and machinery that is used to move the coal from the bunker, up the elevator and into the coal scale before it is distributed to the boilers and burned,” Spanbauer said.

Spanbauer said the switch to natural gas is a cleaner option from an air quality standpoint.

“Combustion of natural gas produces 50% fewer CO2 emissions, so our heating plant’s contribution to climate change will decrease slightly,” Spanbauer said. “Additionally, coal is very dirty and releases particulate matter and toxic substances, such as mercury, into the atmosphere, which rains down over the region and into our soils and waterways.”

Biese said UWO uses about 2,000 tons of coal and 90 tons of refuse-derived fuel pellets annually.

The refuse-derived pellets are made of various types of waste that are then mixed with the coal.

UWO burns about 25 tons per day for approximately 100 days during the winter months.

Spanbauer said the switch to natural gas will also be more cost-effective.

“About $400,000 is spent per year on 2,000 tons of coal for campus,” Spanbauer said. “An additional 90 tons of paper pellets cost nearly $5,000. So we will save a total of $404,950.”

Biese said working with coal in the heating plant is demanding and messy.

“I know the guys aren’t sad that we’re going off coal,” Biese said.

Spanbauer said the state contract for using coal ended and was not renewed.

“Going coal free was not necessarily a decision we made since energy fuel is mandated by the state,” Spanbauer said. “However, this definitely aligns with the interests of those who have been working toward a more sustainable future for campus.”

Spanbauer said with the move away from coal, the region can look forward to improved air quality and fewer emissions.

“These shifts are important to everyone on the planet as we need to recognize the connections between our impacts on the planet and its atmosphere and our health,” Spanbauer said. “Who would be against having cleaner air to breathe?”

Spanbauer said going coal free is just one sustainability effort that sets UWO apart from other campuses.

“This is a benefit to the UWO campus because it shows our dedication to sustainability, a foundational element of our institution that we have prided ourselves on for over a decade,” Spanbauer said. “I hope prospective students will consider Oshkosh when they are looking at colleges and thinking about a place where they can feel comfortable knowing that we are committed to doing the right thing.”