Fall 2003
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Blackout: Could it happen here?

Energy Management has answered a lot of “what ifs” since mid-August’s power-outage in the northeast. EM Director, Paul Hoemann is confident MU’s power is reliable.

“Because MU has its own power plant that is capable of producing 100 percent of the campus needs, the campus community depends on us to keep operating regardless of what the situation is elsewhere in the city, state or region,” he said.

Power generated from diverse sources

MU’s co-generation power plant uses several different fuel sources including coal, natural gas, fuel oil and tire-derived fuel. It has operated since 1923 from its location at Stewart Road and Fifth Street, and today produces annually about two-thirds of the power on campus. The remaining one-third is wholesale, low-cost, interruptible electricity purchased off the nation’s power grid, an intricate interconnection of power plants. At peak-use times, MU is given at least a 30-minute warning before power flowing from the grid to campus is interrupted, requiring MU to generate 100 percent of its own power.

Photo: MU Power Plant
The MU Power Plant has operated since 1923 from its location at Stewart Road and Fifth Street. It produces annually about two-thirds of the power on campus.

“We were put to the test during the latest heat wave which came at the same time students returned for the fall semester. Our power from the grid was interrupted and we generated full power without a problem,” said Ken Davis, EM’s assistant director.

From early investigations, it seems that a contributing factor to the blackout in the northeast may have been an overheated transmission line that came into contact with an untrimmed tree. This scenario is unlikely at MU because all of MU’s electric distribution system is underground, making it more reliable and safe while preserving the aesthetics of the campus.

“Most universities our size do not have full capacity power plants,” said Davis. “We are fortunate to have a power plant that can produce enough power to keep the campus, including the University Hospital, running regardless of any problems around us.”

Reliability into the future

EM has planned well for future growth on campus. The power plant has sufficient capacity to meet a growing campus’ electricity needs for the next six to 10 years. In addition, new buildings on campus have small emergency generators to provide power for critical equipment in case of an underground power line failure. Uninterruptible power is especially critical in areas where health care and research are on-going, such as the University Hospital and the Life Sciences Center, and in areas where large crowds assemble, such as in Hearnes Center and the new basketball arena when it opens.

A related problem caused by the blackout was loss of drinking water to homes, businesses, and hospitals because electricity is required to pump and distribute water. Energy Management has taken steps to prevent a similar problem on campus. Back-up generators and natural gas driven pumps at MU’s water pumping stations ensure an adequate water supply in the event of a power outage. In addition, MU and the City of Columbia are able to supplement each other’s water supply if necessary.

“By being proactive and taking steps to ensure a reliable utility supply, we’ve positioned ourselves to meet the energy requirements of the campus even if a blackout occurs within the national electric grid,” Hoemann said.

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Facilities Focus is a newsletter published by Campus Facilities' Communications department to share news about MU facilities with the campus community. If you have questions or comments about this web site, please send them to Campus Facilities Communications, email: cfweb@missouri.edu; mail address: 180 General Services Building, Columbia, MO 65211; telephone: 573-882-3327; fax: 573-882-5603.

Revised 7/2005

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