From WILL - News Headlines -

EIU to Unveil Renewable Energy Center

Eastern Illinois University has replaced its old coal-fired steam plant with one the largest renewable energy projects in the U.S.

The school holds a grand opening Friday afternoon for its Renewable Energy Center. The facility using gasification technology will rely on more than 27,000 tons of wood chips a year to heat the campus. The chips are fed into a low-oxygen, high temperature environment, and gas emissions will generate the steam for that heat.

EIU President William Perry says just a handful of American universities have this type of plant, one that will provide some academic lessons as well.

"We can do some public service in the areas of alternative energy," he said. "We plan to use the site, which has more land available for field trips, for K-12 students, and other individuals in the community who are interested in that kind of operation."

Perry says the savings on the energy contract allowed Eastern to pay off the cost of the energy center without state money or student fees. EIU Energy and Sustainability Coordinator Ryan Siegel says a lot of things had to fall in place.

That includes two bills passed by Illinois lawmakers - one extended the payback periods for performance contracts to 20 years, and another allowed pilot projects to be paid for under that same window of time.

Siegel says those measures, and the energy savings from the Center itself, will pay for the $80-million facility.

"The entire project reduced the forward energy and water consumption of campus," he said. "It reduced our future costs, allowing us to pay off the debt over a 20-year time frame."

The facility is the result of a collaboration with Honeywell. It's expected to save EIU more than $140-million over the next two decades.

(Photo courtsey of Eastern Illinois University)