Duke University officials have announced the indefinite delay of plans to build a freestanding Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant and will instead focus its attention on expanding opportunities to use biogas and other environmentally friendly fuels for its growing energy needs.
“Duke has an aggressive goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2024 while ensuring that the energy demands of a growing, vibrant campus can be met,” said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III. “While CHP technology creates much greater efficiencies for both the consumer and the producer, we also recognize that advances in technology provide a constantly changing range of options and deserve further study.”
It has been two years since the controversial plant was initially announced, and plans have changed because of an investigation by Duke University’s Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC) of the plant’s implications and the persistence of concerned individuals and organizations.
“New energy infrastructure and biogas energy are complex issues, and if Duke wants to be an environmental leader, it has the responsibility to carefully analyze both in a transparent way that reflects the concerns of students, faculty, and community groups” states Ariyani Challapalli, President of Duke Climate Coalition, the student group leading action and advocacy on climate-related issues.
The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of the NC Council of Churches was invited to be part of a focus group compiled of community organizations that would be impacted by the plan. As both a Duke University Professor and former campus chaplain, Rev. Copeland’s presence was powerful on the panel. She spoke of the moral responsibilities a university has to protect the people it aims to serve and the imperatives of opposing any new fossil fuel infrastructure, especially in a learning environment.
The university’s immediate focus will be on displacing conventional natural gas, which is the primary fuel source for the current steam plants on campus, with methane from swine farms in North Carolina, or “biogas.” Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the system under consideration would capture this methane that typically escapes freely to the atmosphere, remove excess water and chemicals, then inject it into existing natural gas pipelines to be burned as a renewable fuel.
“We are committed to support and foster the development of a renewable biogas market in North Carolina that reduces reliance on fossil fuels and provides opportunities for positive community, environmental, economic and policy outcomes in the state,” said Trask. “At the same time, we will continue to pursue energy efficiency, solar energy and other strategies to meet our climate goals.”
The NC Council of Churches and NC Interfaith Power & Light have endorsed multiple letters to the University and elected officials including signing a letter to Rep. David Price recommending further analysis and stakeholder engagement on the CHP plant.