Last train load of coal marks end of era at Univ. of Georgia

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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A lonesome train whistle will mark the end of an era on the University of Georgia campus this week, or at least the beginning of the end.

The train, a short line called the Athens Line, is scheduled to roll parallel to East Campus Road with the last shipment of coal for the university's coal-fired steam boiler, slated for replacement after this winter.

The Athens Line brought in five cars of coal, about 500 tons, last week from Virginia's Red River Coal Company, said Tom Satterly, assistant vice president of UGA's facilities management division. With this week's expected shipment of another six cars with 600 tons, UGA will have a winter stockpile of just more than 4,000 tons to help heat the Athens main campus in the cold months ahead.

"This is the last planned shipment," Satterly said.

But after that's burned, UGA officials don't intend to buy any more if all goes according to plan.

In September, UGA administrators announced plans to scrap the university's old coal-fired steam boiler, used to provide steam for the vast network of pipes that snake through the university campus. The steam not only heats buildings in winter, but helps cool them in summer. Machines that sterilize scientific instruments and glass are also connected to the steam network.

The announcement came after years of study by UGA officials and consultants on what to do about the 50-year-old boiler, which UGA officials said had become less reliable with age and more expensive to keep in good repair.

Student and environmental groups lobbied UGA administrators for years to shut down the coal boiler, responsible for tons of ozone-forming pollution each year.

In recent years, workers have cut back on the plant's use, but it still puts tons of pollution into the sky above Athens.

The coal boiler is one of several boilers at the university's steam plant off East Campus Road, but the others burn natural gas, with fuel oil as a backup.

UGA planners had entertained the possibility of replacing the coal boiler with another natural gas unit, or even one that would burn biofuels such as wood scraps.

But each had drawbacks, according to facilities managers.

Another natural gas boiler could make UGA too dependent on a single fuel source. And a biomass plant not only would bring a constant stream of big trucks and trains into the heart of the UGA campus, officials side, but would be a significant source of air pollution.

Consultants recommended a third option - an electrode boiler powered by Georgia Power Company electricity.

UGA could save as much as half a million dollars a year when the electrode boiler comes on line in fall 2015.

Like the coal boiler, the electrode unit will be mainly a backup for the gas boilers.

The electric boiler will be more expensive to operate per unit of steam than the gas boilers, but will give UGA an alternate fuel source in case natural gas supplies are interrupted, or when natural gas prices spike.


Information from: Athens Banner-Herald,

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