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UWL Phasing Out Coal

The Department of Administration Building Commission approved a $3.98 million project Wednesday to phase out coal as a heating fuel at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse got the green light Wednesday to phase out coal as a heating fuel, in part because of uncertainties in the coal market.

The Department of Administration Building Commission approved a $3.98 million project to update the university’s fuel bunker so it can hold a weekend’s worth of fuel oil, as well as update two boilers and remove coal and coal ash-handling equipment from its heating plant.

About $30.4 million in state building projects were approved at the August meeting.

The university system requested the switch in fuel because of environmental and economic reasons, citing the “uncertain availability of coal” once the state’s coal contract expires in June 2020, according to the University of Wisconsin System’s project request.

Once the state’s coal contract with its vendor, Robindale Energy & Associated Companies, expires in June 2020, the university will transition to burning only natural gas and fuel oil.

UW-L uses coal and fuel oil as secondary heating supplies for its campus. About 90% of the university’s heat is generated by burning natural gas — its main fuel source — in two boilers to produce steam, said Scott Schumacher, UW-L associate director of planning and construction.

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The boilers are about 50 years old and will be updated with new fuel oil burners to increase efficiency, Schumacher said.

The university will also install two tanks capable of holding a combined 52,000 gallons of fuel oil, enough to provide about 72 hours of heat, once coal is phased out.

The storage area is currently capable of holding 12,000 gallons, enough for about 14 hours of operation.

Bidding for the project is scheduled to open February 2020. Once a contractor is selected, construction is scheduled to start in May 2020 and finish in August 2021.

The state previously considered adding more pollution controls, eliminating coal, or shutting down the UW-L heating plant altogether in 2010 as part of a push by then-Gov. Jim Doyle to move away from burning coal at state facilities, according to previous La Crosse Tribune reporting.

The UW-Madison’s Charter Street Heating Plant and the Capitol Heating Plant in Madison switched from coal to natural gas after the Sierra Club sued in 2007.

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Jennifer Lu is the La Crosse Tribune environmental reporter. You can reach her by phone at 608-791-8217 and by email jennifer.lu@lee.net.

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