Boiler maintenance, chiller expansion ensure comfort

Heat and air conditioning are hot commodities at WSU Pullman, especially during the bitter cold winter months and in the blistering heat of summer. But, improvements and maintenace to both systems by Facilities Operations are ensuring an ample supply of both.

What would happen if the heat system, provided by steam boilers on College Avenue and Grimes Way, were to malfunction?

Local media recently addressed this issue when concerns were raised about the shut down of the three new boilers at the Grimes Way Steam Plant due to needed repairs after only one year of operation. 

Despite concerns, Rob Corcoran, assistant director of architecture, engineering and construction services for Facilities Operations, said shutting down the boilers at Grimes Way Steam Plant and operating with the boilers at the College Avenue Steam Plant is standard protocol in the summer for performing preventative maintenance.

Upon shut down it was discovered that refractory and steel repairs were needed on several of the boilers, however, at no time has steam production been jeopardized. In addition to College Avenue steam generation, two of the three boilers at Grimes Way are available for steam production. The repairs to the boilers will not affect heating operations this winter, Corcoran said.

Mike Nearing, steam plant manager at Grimes Way Steam Plant, said WSU has five boilers in operation — two on College Avenue and three at Grimes Way. Each boiler has a steam capacity of 82,500 pounds per hour for a total of 412,500 pounds per hour. With average summer steam loads at 40,000 pounds per hour and winter loads averaging 150,000 pounds per hour and peaking at 275,000 pounds per hour, the need for all five at any given time is unnecessary.

Completion of repairs on one Grimes Way boiler has been completed. Another boiler, which received temporary repairs and was returned to operation, will be removed from service for permanent repairs in November, Nearing said. Repairs are being performed under warranty.

“Four boilers are more than sufficient and we never need five,” Corcoran said.

Chiller updates improve cooling system

On the opposite end of the spectrum, cooling the campus during summer months is evolving as needs increase.

The underground system, which serves 62 buildings across campus, has had numerous chillers replaced and added in the past few years, upgrades to the chilling plant on College Avenue and altered operating procedures, all of which are providing increasingly efficient cooling in more environmentally conscious ways.

Such improvements, in conjunction with mild summer months, have reduced chilling deficits and cutbacks to buildings. In the past, some buildings experienced cooling cutbacks between 3 p.m. and 8 a.m. when summer temperatures were at their peak. This was done to make sure temperature control was maintained in priority areas on campus where there were research projects. In the summer of 2005, however, cutbacks in cooling were not necessary because of recent system improvements.

Terry Ryan, energy manager for facilities operations, said recent improvements have enabled the current chilling system to sustain current loads until a new system comes on line in 2007.

“We are moving toward meeting existing loads and positioning ourselves to meet campus cooling needs under extreme conditions,” Ryan said.

(Related: See article, expanded for WSU Today website visitors, titled: “Power outages: A few seconds down mean 24 hours of work”)

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