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A letter from President Brodhead about the proposed Combined Heat and Power project

There has been considerable debate recently about the proposed Combined Heat and Power project (CHP), which would be a joint effort between Duke Energy and Duke University. We appreciate the public’s interest in the proposal and want to take a moment to address some of the questions around this project.

First, why is Duke University pursuing this project? The answer is simple: energy reliability and security. Duke University and Health System represent the region’s most advanced medical center, its largest research center, and a home for more than 5,000 resident students. Duke must have a continuous source of electricity that is impervious to weather events and other emergencies that can cause widespread and lengthy power outages. The CHP plant would provide enough electricity to support all of Duke’s critical facilities. This is, literally, a matter of life and death for the patients in our hospitals and is critical to the cumulative years of research that rely on carefully maintained laboratory conditions.

Why is a CHP plant the preferred option? CHP plants are widely recognized for their efficiency and effectiveness. By using the waste heat produced by electrical generation to create the necessary steam and hot water our campus buildings demand, the CHP plant will reduce fuel consumption and emissions, both on campus and throughout the Duke Energy system. That’s why a CHP plant has always been a component of the university’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for carbon neutrality by 2024, and which has already led to a 23% reduction in greenhouse gases since it was adopted in 2007.

Natural gas is a significantly cleaner fuel than coal, the source for the majority of the university’s steam generation until the recent past. The CHP plant will burn natural gas at first, but it will allow us to use less gas overall to meet our heating needs, thanks to the efficient use of the waste heat by-product. Over time, we expect that the CHP plant will be able to take advantage of bio-gas, which will continue to reduce our overall reliance on fossil fuel. This will provide the university with an immediate net reduction on its natural gas use.

What are the factors that will determine whether the CHP plant will be built? First, the North Carolina Utilities Commission has to approve it. Next, the university has made its participation contingent on several key factors, two of which have already been agreed to in principle by Duke Energy. The first is the ability of the CHP plant to generate electricity that can be completely dedicated to the Duke medical center and campus in the event of a major disruption to the power grid. The second is flexibility for the university as to the length of the contract in the event more attractive alternatives become available.

In addition, we are continuing to discuss the plant using bio-gas when it becomes commercially available, as well as the commitment that the university and Duke Energy would make to help that occur. We are also discussing the requirement for the CHP plant to be held to the highest standards of air quality and safety. Without these agreements, the university’s interest in the project would be significantly reduced.

We pledge to facilitate an open and transparent process so members of our community can participate. That process has already started within the university’s Campus Sustainability Committee, whose members include Duke students, faculty and staff. The CSC is providing valuable input on methodology for quantifying emissions, the economic and environmental impact of the CHP plant, and potential alternatives.

We look forward to working together with the Duke community to find solutions that meet our twin goals of having Duke be a leader in sustainability while securing the energy and reliability needs of a growing educational, research and health care institution.

Richard Brodhead



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