Within the nondescript brick buildings beneath the looming smokestacks, 21 visitors got an inside look at the operations that provide the MU campus with its power and heat.
Amy Eultgen, the Environmental Leadership Office adviser, worked with the MU Campus Facilities power plant staff to put the tour together, giving people the opportunity to see a relatively unknown part of their community.
“A lot of people see the brick buildings and the smokestacks but don’t really know what happens there,” she said. “We just wanted to give an opportunity for people to learn about where the campus energy comes from.”
The MU Power Plant, in operation since 1892, is a landmark of the MU campus. Situated in the northwest corner, it takes up nearly five full blocks, stretching from Mark Twain Residence Hall on the south to Elm Street on the north. Despite its imposing presence, most people know little about what goes on inside its walls.
The tour provided an opportunity for visitors to see the work being done to ensure smooth operations each day at the university. But more importantly, it provided an opportunity for plant workers to show off their progress on an even more impactful initiative they have been working on since 2008.
Facing the large task of keeping MU heated, cooled, and powered daily, the power plant has used coal as its primary fuel source since its inception. Tour guide Ken Davis said that the power plant’s fuel mix was 95 percent coal in 2008.
In the following year, University Chancellor Brady Deaton joined 650 other institutions in signing on to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. This commitment promised to decrease MU’s carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2015 and have the university reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
This has forced the power plant to find new sources of energy, such as the installation of a new biomass (organic material) boiler and a transition toward purchasing more wind generated power, up to 63 percent in 2016. These initiatives have allowed the plant to cut its greenhouse emissions by 51 percent and use of coal by 81 percent since 2008. It has also led MU to become No. 4 in on-site green energy generation in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
As the power plant evolves toward carbon neutrality, its workers and those on the MU campus are ramping up their efforts to make sure that their work does not go unnoticed.
“The Environmental Leadership Office currently does one tour of the power plant per year,” Eultgen said. “But we would love to increase that to at least one per semester to allow more people to go.”
Over 900 faculty, students and staff went through the plant last year alone, and partnerships with MU organizations, such as the Environmental Leadership Office, will continue to help spread awareness throughout the community.