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University Power Plant hosts tours as part of Energy Week

| Friday, October 7, 2016

Looming high over the far corner of campus behind Hesburgh Library, the Notre Dame Power Plant remains a mystery to many students — a constant presence that most take for granted. As a part of Energy Week, NDEnergy partnered with the Notre Dame Utilities Department to demystify this part of campus. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Power Plant staff provided students an inside look by leading tours through the facilities that heat, cool and power Notre Dame.

Paul Kempf, senior director of utilities and maintenance, said the plant — started in 1932 — produces steam, chilled water, compressed air and around half of the University’s electricity needs. The Plant uses natural gas, coal and oil as fuel.

“We’re blessed that all of our equipment has the diversity and selectivity to fire on different fuels,” said Kempf. “I tell people it’s like when you go to buy stocks, you don’t take all your money and buy one stock, you buy a diversified portfolio. That’s essentially how the energy system here on campus was built.”

On the tour, two Power Plant operators gathered the students in attendance and delivered a briefing on the Power Plant and how energy is handled at Notre Dame. After this, students donned hard hats and were led in groups of approximately 10 into the courtyard, with smokestacks and chiller units towering far overhead. Moving inside, students were shown one of the plants’ six boilers — one over seven stories tall — before continuing on to one of the coal boilers, where the operators handed out lumps of coal to everyone on the tour.

Shortly after, students were able to take selfies with one of the plant’s World War II-era diesel engines. To finish the tour, the operators led the group into the control room, covered from floor-to-ceiling with dials, gauges and switches and where the computer that controls the entire plant is located.

Although the plant will run solely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, the Power Plant staff and Utilities Department are committed to reducing Notre Dame’s carbon footprint. The plant plans to completely phase out the use of coal — which currently comprises less than 15 percent of fuel burned at the Plant — by 2020 in favor of a cleaner-burning alternative — natural gas — which is already the fuel primarily used at the Plant.

Additionally, plans for three different geothermal projects are already underway.

“20% of our peak demand right now would be met by geothermal,” Kempf said.

Kempf also discussed plans for a small hydroelectric plant in South Bend. He said that they’ve already reduced their emissions 35 percent since 2005, and they hope to be down to 50 percent by 2050.

“We don’t do this for ourselves — we do do this for all of you,” Kempf said. “I hope people will be patient and understand that we’re doing all that we can. We’re very supportive of the sustainability movement.

“We’re also good engineers, and we know it’s got to make sense, it’s got to work, it’s got to be reliable. … We’re essentially operating a city.”

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About Andrew Cameron

Andrew is a senior from Orange County, California. He is an associate news editor at the Observer, and is majoring in Biological Sciences and English. While he has greatly enjoyed his time at Notre Dame, during the winter months he often wonders why he ever left the perennial warmth of Southern California.

Contact Andrew