Energy Plant at the University of Minnesota Reduces Campus Emissions by 50%

The main energy plant at the University of Minnesota. Source: University of Minnesota


A deteriorated, decommissioned 104-year-old heating plant on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus has been resurrected as a cutting-edge “co-generation” — or combined heat and power — utility that is 83% energy-efficient, which is more than double the efficiency of a coal-fired power plant.

The University of Minnesota has reinvested in the former Old Main Heating Plant, replacing old boilers with a new 22.8 megawatt combustion turbine and heat recovery system that will generate electric power and steam for the Minneapolis campus.

Fueled by natural gas, the Main Energy Plant is a key investment in the University’s climate action plan to reduce campus emissions in half by the year 2020. The plant went commercial Nov. 17, 2017. While operating, it reduces the University’s net carbon footprint by an estimated 10 to 13% and will provide the University with a more reliable source of energy, unaffected by supply disruptions to the local area grid.

“The Main Energy Plant allows the Twin Cities to operate as an energy island so that critical University services at hospitals, clinics and research facilities can be maintained if there are external outage events,” said Jerome Malmquist, Director of Energy Management at the University of Minnesota.

The Main Energy Plant will save the University an estimated net $2 million annually in utility operating costs. The University recently received an additional $2 million one-time rebate from the Department of Commerce’s Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) for updating the plant to avoid fuel consumption that would be required with the addition of package boilers to meet the campus steam demand.

“The Main Energy Plant marries a historic site and decommissioned plant with world-class technology and environmental stewardship to support the University’s long-term research mission,” said Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen. “This is an exciting step that allows us to lessen our carbon footprint, while ensuring continuity of operations to campus and saving the University money.”

UMN’s new Main Energy Plant received $10 million from the state in the 2012 bonding bill. This project, under regulation from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, began in early 2015.

Other Minnesota Schools Embracing Efficiency

St. John’s University of Collegeville, Minnesota, announced Jan. 10 that it had expanded its community solar garden. When the first solar panels were installed in 2009, the university was able to generate half a megawatt (500 kW) of power; and another 500 kW were added in 2014. Now the university has completed a third phase, known as the Orion Community Solar Garden, which is 3 MW – or six times larger

And in November, The University of Minnesota Duluth announced it will purchase power in the form of a 100-kilowatt block from the new Minnesota Power solar garden. The solar garden, located in Wrenshall, is divided into blocks that customers subscribe to in order to meet part or all of their energy needs. According to, UMD’s 100 Kilowatt, $213,215 purchase is 10% of the Minnesota Power community solar garden. The power will be used across several areas of campus: 40% Dining Services, 40% Housing and Residence Life, and 20% Transportation and Parking Services.


Mark your calendars: The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.


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One thought on “Energy Plant at the University of Minnesota Reduces Campus Emissions by 50%

  1. This is a worthwhile project. It is true that this project will make the U of M less dependent on the electric grid, but it is also true it that the university will now be more dependent on the natural gas grid.

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