Two combustion turbines powered by natural gas will be the heartbeat of WSU’s electric generation system, if the Board of Regents gives its approval May 10 for a new university power plant.

The proposal calls for a 28-megawatt combined heat-and-power production system to be built on east Grimes Way at Olympia Ave., below Jewett Observatory. This is a redesigned version of the power plant proposed last year.

Ten months ago, the university was proposing a $92 million cogeneration plant that it would co-own and manage with an outside company. The Legislature realized the need to replace the university’s 70-year-old heating system and allocated $23 million to fund the project. Shortly after, fluctuating electricity and fuel prices prompted WSU to call time out, analyze its plans and options, and prepare a new design that was more flexible, less costly and allowed greater control over plant operation.

Under the new proposal, the university will fully own the power plant, lock stock and boiler. The new proposal calls for a combination electric/steam heat power plant that would provide enough electricity to cover its current and future needs and heat the university via its existing steam distribution system.

New power plant estimates come to $56 million. To finance the project, the university will establish a nonprofit corporation, which will issue approximately $33 million in tax-exempt bonds for costs not covered by the state.

“This option provides the university with the most reliable steam and electricity at the lowest annual cost,” said Greg Royer, vice president of Business Affairs.

In essence, here’s how the plant works. The university will use natural gas (with fuel oil as a backup) to propel the primary combustion turbine generators, which produce up to 20 megawatts of electricity — more than the university’s daily need. Heat from these turbines will be captured via two heat recovery steam generators. These generators will hook into a condensing steam turbine that will produce another 8 megawatts of electricity. The condensing steam turbine will distribute the steam heat and electricity out to the campus.

System exhaust will be funneled out a 25-meter-high stack. The new system also will incorporate the two new package boilers the university installed at the existing steam plant and brought online this year.

If natural gas becomes unavailable or high priced, the university can switch to Number 2 heating oil as its primary fuel.

The university uses about 14 to 15 megawatts of power in an average day, with peaks hitting about 23 megawatts. All excess electricity would be sold via the spot sales market.

The university and its nonprofit corporation will contract with Trigen Energy Corporation of New York to operate and maintain the power plant. Trigen, or another agency, will also manage the purchase of fuel and the sale of excess power.

In addition, the project calls for decommissioning the existing steam plant on the west end of campus, site remediation and removal of the coal pile.

If approved construction could begin as early as this June, with a possible completion in spring 2004.