Published: Nov. 8, 2023

Editor's note: Based on feedback from readers, this article has been updated to correct or remove details that were incomplete or could have been misleading regarding the climate benefits of the West District Energy Plant upgrades. The edited article more accurately reflects the impact of the upgrades and their role in meeting state emissions requirements and supporting campus resilience in relation to CU Boulder’s larger energy transition. Additional steps to ensure the ongoing accuracy of campus communications are being established to coincide with the start of the spring 2024 semester

As part of the consent agenda at its regular meeting held at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) this week, the University of Colorado Board of Regents approved a $43.1 million plan to replace heating and power generating equipment in the West District Energy Plant (WDEP) located on the Boulder campus.

West District Energy Plant on the CU Boulder campus.

West District Energy Plant

WDEP currently provides heat and cooling to most of Main Campus, as well as backup power to the main and east campuses that enables resilience and protects research, life safety and continuity of operations in the event of electrical grid outages. The upgrades include replacing a pair of combustion turbines, installing nitrogen oxides (NOx) reduction equipment and retiring one of the plant’s boilers. The improvements will reduce the plant’s NOx emissions by over 50% versus current operations, ensuring the plant meets new Colorado air permit requirements. 

“These upgrades will extend the usable life of the plant while we work toward transitioning to a carbon-neutral future,” said Chris Ewing, vice chancellor for infrastructure and sustainability. 

Supporting campus energy resilience 

WDEP is what is known as a combined heat and power (CHP) plant system, which provides a reliable backup power source at times when high energy demand puts a strain on the local electricity grid.  

Ewing said that this project allows the university to plan, invest and execute the campus’s strategy for achieving carbon neutrality by supporting energy resilience while the campus transition occurs.

“Before we can make use of technologies that generate clean thermal energy, we must first complete the difficult work of converting approximately 180 campus buildings, utility distribution systems and central plant equipment from steam to lower temperature hot water,” Ewing said.

“This work will take a significant amount of time and financial investment to complete, so it is important that we are simultaneously working on ways to gain efficiencies in our campus heating and power systems. We also have a responsibility to ensure that we are positioned for both the energy transition and the energy resilience and reliability needed to ensure our research and academic mission is protected and student success is supported without interruption.”

Cost and timeline

The WDEP project retires approximately $15 Million in auxiliary deferred maintenance. Funding will be derived from campus cash, primarily from the Division of Utilities and Energy Services auxiliary funds, as well as from capital reserves set aside for facilities deferred maintenance. The project cost may also be supplemented by $6 million to $9 million in new federal tax credits made available as cash repayments to public entities through the Inflation Reduction Act. 

The university intends to begin construction in January 2024 and complete the project in June 2025.