Energy costs on the rise at Kent State

Josh Echt

The natural gas-fired turbines at the university power plant on Summit Street generate 60,000 pounds of steam per hour, or enough to provide nearly 90 percent of Kent State’s electric power during the winter months.

Lately, however, the turbines, and the university face a greater challenge: rising energy costs.

The cost of natural gas has quadrupled over the past several years, driving Kent State’s energy costs up, said Tom Dunn, campus environment and operations associate director.

Despite a milder-than-normal winter, Dunn said the cost to purchase natural gas for Kent State increased from $3.00 MCF in fiscal year 1998-1999 to $8.50 MCF in fiscal year 2005-2006. An MCF is a unit to measure a 1,000 cubic-foot area, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Web site.

“The power plant’s natural gas-fired turbines uses the steam byproduct to produce electricity,” Dunn said. “They’re like jet engines in a box.”

The two turbines generate 60 million kilowatt-hours of energy. The steam generated as a byproduct from the turbines is routed through an underground pipe network through campus to the different buildings, he said.

Dunn also said electricity, which is purchased from Ohio Edison, has seen a price increase from 6 cents to 6.6 cents per kilowatt-hour from 2005 to 2006.

He said the university has no choice of supplier for water or electricity. For natural gas, Dunn said, the university bids on purchases. The two-piece contract covers transportation and the supplier of gas itself. The university is in the first year of a four-year contract lasting until 2009 with the suppliers.

Despite the switch to a natural-gas-fired power plant from a coal power plant in 2001, rising natural gas costs are a challenge, said Michael Flanagan, campus environment and operations senior business manager.

“We study the gas market and try to buy and store ahead of time,” Flanagan said.

Contact general assignment reporter Josh Echt at [email protected].