MARQUETTE, Mich.—Northern Michigan University officials held a groundbreaking ceremony this morning to celebrate the impending construction of a renewable energy facility. Developed with Johnson Controls, the $16.4 million facility will burn wood chips and wood byproducts from the Upper Peninsula. The project goals are to reduce operating costs, provide greater fuel flexibility and protection from volatile gas pricing, use a renewable resource and create local jobs.
“This is not just a historical moment for Northern, but for me as the university’s president,” said Les Wong. “One of the first project ideas I heard about when I came to NMU was of a renewable energy facility. So for as long as I’ve been here, which is now eight years, this has been a strategic goal of the university and we appreciate the partnership we have with Johnson Controls to make it a reality. NMU is committed to being a campus that works hard at its sustainability measures and this facility will help us within that area.”
The facility will produce up to 87 percent of the campus steam consumption currently supplied by burning fossil fuel at the adjacent Ripley Heating Plant. It will also produce up to 16 percent of the university’s electricity needs, reducing the amount that must be purchased from the Marquette Board of Light and Power.
The project is funded by internal or bond proceeds paid back through operational cost savings guaranteed by Johnson Controls. In addition to the new construction, work will address $800,000 in long-term maintenance at the Ripley plant, which relies primarily on natural gas with fuel oil as a backup and will be used to meet peak steam demand.
“By being able to burn multiple types of fuel, the university has a critical ability to fiscally react to significant changes in the fuel source marketplace,” said Brian Cloyd, chair of the NMU Board of Trustees. “The new plant will also incorporate the best available control technology and meet federal EPA and Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment standards.”
Work at the site started in March. NMU officials anticipate doing the first test burn in the new facility in January.