University of North Carolina Cogeneration Facility

From Global Energy Monitor

The University of North Carolina Cogeneration Facility in Chapel Hill, NC, produces one-fourth of the university’s electricity and all of its steam. The remaining electricity is purchased from Duke Energy. The plant uses a circulating fluidized bed, which combusts fuel components often allowed up the stack at older coal-fired generators.[1]

In 2007 the school used almost 12,000 tons of coal for electricity generation.[2]


The first plant was built at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1895, and the present power generation facility has its roots in a coal-fired plant built in 1940 on West Cameron Avenue, a half mile from the main campus, which supplied electricity to both the university and the surrounding towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.[3]

In the early 1970’s, the state legislature decided that UNC should not be in the electric power business and ordered the university to divest its electric utility assets to Duke Power. After the divestment, UNC generated only 20% of its power needs, purchasing the remainder from Duke. In the 1980s the university revisited on-site power generation, and in 1988 decided to build a coal-fired cogeneration plant for the UNC campus and hospital.[3]

Coal Use

On deciding to use coal to power the current facility, an informational guide on the UNC facility states that "when asked about the availability of natural gas to fuel the plant, the local utility replied that supplies were not available on a cost effective basis. Coal, however, was still available, and at low cost. Furthermore, the university was familiar with the technicalities of burning coal from its previous experience. Therefore coal was chosen to fire the new plant. The university anticipated new source environmental performance standards and was aware of the need to design a plant that would be clean enough to overcome both regulatory hurdles and the stigma of burning 'dirty' coal. These criteria left the university with a choice between implementing circulating fluidized beds (CFB) or using pulverized coal with scrubbers. The economics pointed to using CFB."[3]

Fly Ash

Each year the facility produces more than 25,000 tons of fly ash. The waste is sent to a local company that reuses the ash for structural fill and sewage treatment.[1]



  1. 1.0 1.1 "Energy Generation", UNC Website, accessed December 2009
  2. "Breaking Coal's Grip on Our Future: Moving Campuses Beyond Coal" Sierra Club Report, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "UNC Cogen Case Study" UNC Website, accessed December 2009

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