Proposed Cogeneration Plant Causes Controversy on Campus

The proposed installation of a cogeneration plant, also known as combined heat and power (CHP) at Ramapo College has been set back after an analysis from consultants due to the plan's inability to reflect the College's mission of reducing its carbon footprint and energy costs over the next 20 years.

"For the past several years, the College has explored opportunities for installing a CHP plant on campus," said Anna Farneski, College spokesperson. "A CHP plant operated on campus has potential for generating a good portion of the College's electricity needs at reduced cost."

Cogeneration involves the use of a heat engine or a power station to simultaneously generate electricity as well as useful heat and chilled water. It could potentially be used in a number of applications.

The use of natural gas as a fuel source would reduce the College's carbon footprint in keeping with the president's commitment for climate change.

Currently envisioned for the construction of a CHP plant is a public/private partnership as permitted under the New Jersey Economic Development Act of 2009. Prior to soliciting proposals for such a project, the College engaged Vanderweil Power Group of Lawrenceville, N.J., to perform a detailed and extensive analysis of the project's viability and prepare preliminary schematic drawings and specifications that would serve as the basis for soliciting a private partner. The engineers' analysis indicated that the project is indeed viable.

The College then received proposals from four firms pre-qualified and capable of installing and operating a cogeneration facility. The firms gave in-person presentations to a selection committee of college staff and consultants.

The committee narrowed the field of potential partners to two firms and requested additional financial information and analyses from each. Based on the College's specifications and exogenous factors such as the current low cost of natural gas, neither proposer was able to provide a model that reflected energy savings for the College over a 20-year project term.

According to Emma Rainforth, associate professor of environmental science and geology at Ramapo, Ramapo College's electricity is generated mostly by coal and nuclear power.

"Currently, the College's electricity is generated as follows: coal 35 percent, 32 nuclear percent, natural gas 26 percent and renewables at 3.5 percent," Rainforth said. "A cogen plant would involve a move away from coal and nuclear and move primarily to natural gas."

The energy industry in America is increasingly leaning towards the extraction and use of natural gas that is embedded in shale rock. In 25 years, approximately 60 percent of all natural gas will come from the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or ," due to its abundance and the depletion of conventional sources.

Although natural gas is essentially cleaner than other energy sources such as coal and it would prove less costly to the College judging by national energy initiatives, the process of fracking itself can be very detrimental to the environment.

"When one considers the leakage of gas in gas fields that are being fracked, 10 to 30 percent more gas is lost in shale gas fields versus conventional fields, as well as the intensive use of fossil fuels to even extract the shale gas," said Rainforth. "It turns out that over the 'life-cycle,' the use of shale gas releases 20 to 50 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional natural gas."

However, the College only calculates their carbon footprint based on what goes into their power plants, not how those sources are extracted.

"I respect Ramapo's attempts at being progressive in its goals to reduce costs for students as well as its impact on the environment, but the decision makers need to re-evaluate this plan because it might do more harm than good," said Kevan Kenney, a junior global communications major.

The College is currently in the process of entering into a project development agreement with one of the two finalist firms to modify the specifications in order to ascertain if the project can indeed be viable and partnership worthwhile.