UVA continues to use coal as a backup to Charlottesville gas

As the temperatures get colder, thoughts of many turn to how homes and businesses will be heated in the winter months. The University of Virginia continues to burn coal for a portion of the year to supplement the natural gas it purchases from the city of Charlottesville. 

The topic came up at the end of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee on September 15. University of Virginia Architect Alice Raucher provided an overview of UVA’s sustainability goals. 

“The big goal of course is carbon neutrality by 2030 and fossil-fuel free by 2050,” said Alice Raucher, the University of Virginia architect. 

The discussion gave the chance to provide an update on how UVA is doing. 

“We have reduced our carbon footprint over the last ten years by 43 percent,” Raucher said. “We have some utility solar fields that we have partnered with Dominion Energy on in the state of Virginia where the power goes into the grid.” 

A presentation in the packet demonstrated what the University has done so far to meet the goals. For much more information, the sustainability presentation is from pages 30 to 36 in the B&G packet (Credit: Office of the University of Virginia Architect)

Raucher said the Buildings and Grounds Committee will be briefed on more initiatives in the years to come. 

One new member of the committee appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin asked a question about a controversial piece of infrastructure. Bertram Ellis Jr. is a member of the class of 1975 whose appointment this year has been controversial among some students, according to this article in InsideHigherEd.

“What is the future of the coal silos right over there across the street from the Spot?” Ellis asked.

“That is a good question,” Raucher said. “Right now our heat plant needs to burn coal because…  the city’s ability to supply natural gas in the winter when it’s really cold in the winter is too much for them to handle and we get curtailed.” 

Raucher said the coal tower is a back-up. 

“Long-term we’d like to get off of coal,” Raucher said. 

“Do we have to get our gas from the city,” Ellis asked.

“We do, unless we run our own pipeline,” Raucher said. 

President Jim Ryan summed up the situation.

“So there are a couple of other options,” Ryan said. “One is to see if we can get more gas from the town and that’s not been successful so far but something to keep thinking about. You could have alternative backups and one of them is oil but oil is not much better than coal. The other is geothermal.”

Raucher said UVA is exploring that option and is working with a consultant to determine a way forward. The next step is to drill some test wells around Grounds. 

“We think we have good underground conditions that would support geothermal,” Raucher said. 

The next meeting of the UVA Board of Visitors is December 8 through December 9. 

City Climate Action plan now available for review

Finally today, Charlottesville City Council will take up a draft Climate Action Plan at its next meeting on October 3 at a work session that begins at 4 p.m. 

“The plan builds upon past work of the City’s Climate Program and provides a strategic framework to guide City and community actions to achieve our greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals of 45% by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050,” reads a press release that went out this morning

The plan notes that Charlottesville Gas stopped advertising new for customers in the city of Charlottesville. The University of Virginia is mostly located within Albemarle County. 

“Some community input on this plan also advocated to restrict any new hook ups within the gas system’s existing territory,” reads page 75 of the draft plan. “Charlottesville’s legal authority to do this is unknown at this time and is included in the Decarbonization of Gas Utility Study.”

Albemarle County completed a Climate Action Plan in October 2020 and have now turned their attention to developing a climate resilience plan. There’s an information meeting on that this Thursday night that will delve into the Climate Vulnerability and Risk Assessment released in June 2022. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the September 27, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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