Episode 7: Fuel Switching and Sustainability at Iowa State University - Transcript

Back to Episode 7

Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance for building sides to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy carbon and business planning firm. In this episode, you'll hear my phone interview with two staff members from Iowa State University. First, a bit of background on this episode. Here at Fovea we've been doing research for an article on the state of coal use on higher education campuses. When I met Merry Rankin I was State's director of sustainability. At the AASHE conference in October, we got to talking about this article as well as Iowa State's use of coal. Merry graciously answered my questions and offered to provide some more specifics when she returned home. But I got back to Seattle, I followed up with her. And to my delight, not only did she respond right away, but she proceeded to set up this conversation with her colleague Jeff Witt, the director of utilities. I didn't know what to expect from this conversation. But it proved really interesting on many levels. Jeff gives a first hand account of running a large campus utility plant, I think you'll hear the pride he has in his work in support of the university's mission. I think you'll also hear his honest struggle to balance the often competing goals of fiscal and environmental responsibility. You'll hear Merry describe how she tries to affect long lasting sustainable change. She talks about telling the untold stories, and engaging people from wherever they are both talked about the need to broaden the frame through which we think about sustainability, as the problems are not always as simple as they first seem. Like any institution, I was state still has plenty of problems left to solve. But I hope you'll enjoy this conversation with two people that are going about it in a thoughtful and collaborative way. Here's our October 27 interview with Merry Rankin, and Jeff Witt. Well, Jeff and Merry, I really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to me today. And as I mentioned, in the emails, when we were setting up this call, we've been working at Fovea here on an article about the status of coal use in higher education. And basically who's still using coal? And how is that use, it's been changing over time. And as we've been researching the topic, we found it was not very easy to find specific, publicly available information about central power plants generally. I mean, sometimes you could find general statistics and a little published presentation, you know, from a conference presentation or something like that. And occasionally, you could find the fuel history in a in a greenhouse gas emissions report. But even more difficult to find was information around why people were making the decisions they were making, we found lots of press releases about people saying they were going to say get off coal or build a new boiler system or something like that. But it was usually more of a victory lap rather than sort of the description of how the decision making processes went. So I'm hoping to really dive into that conversation today. But I wanted to start first with just maybe if you could give us a little bit of a background on first of all your roles. And then just a little bit of background on the energy system you have at Iowa State, and then we go from there.

Jeff Witt 3:17

Okay. starter, that's fine. Okay. My name is Jeff Witt, I'm director of utilities for Iowa State.

Merry Rankin 3:26

Oh, yeah. Merry Rankin, I'm the director of sustainability for Iowa State. And also I have a little bit of a shared role with the city of Ames toward engaging the community and in sustainability opportunities as well.

Dave Karlsgodt 3:38

Great. Well, could you give us just maybe some of the will go with just some of the general stats like growth square feet or number of students and maybe number of boilers, we don't have to get too technical, but just kind of a thumbnail, look at what the energy system looks like

Jeff Witt 3:52

At Iowa State, we have about 36,300 students, this, this fall, total gross square foot's right around 14 million for everything. Iowa State's been around 150 plus years, when the university started, it was a farm. So it's actually as out the country and it's been self sufficient. For all of its life really, as far as energy. The first power plant was built in 1891. it was a combined heat and power co generation plant, we still use that process today very, very efficient process. And the plan today provides all the heating, cooling and electricity for the campus, we can generate electricity, and we need to we do purchase electricity off the grid and through some other contracts as well.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:44

What are your major fuel sources? Are you you're purchasing some electricity from the grid? But how are you burning coal, natural gas, fuel oil, biomass or anything else?

Jeff Witt 4:52

The university has been 100% coal until about 2013, where we started the process to convert a portion of the power plant to natural gas. So today, the power plant is capacity is 40%. Coal and 60% natural gas, we have five different boilers to burn coal, they are circulating fluid, boiler is very efficient, very, very good from an environmental standpoint. And then we have three boilers that are natural gas that do have a fuel oil backup, but it's very limited use they're really they're really natural gas boilers.

Merry Rankin 5:32

And we do have some flexibility in there of renewables fuels as well

Jeff Witt 5:36

correct. The coil boilers can burn limited amounts of biomass, and we actually are permitted to burn wood. But we are not today because of price. But we do experiment with biomass. When opportunities arise.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:51

Got it. Where do you typically get your biomass sourced from?

Jeff Witt 5:54

Any biomass would be primarily a local supply, If it's going to be any value. If it's going to be economic at all at all. It's got to be close. You cannot transport it very far.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:08

Got it just because of the density of the energy in the body and the wood. Yes, at the time you move it. Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. So you made that switch to set you said 60%. Now natural gas, what, how did that decision get made? What was was that purely economic? Or was there more decisions around fuel mixture? Or like what what went into that decision?

Jeff Witt 6:32

I was they says a lot of the larger universities are covered by environmental regulations. And there was an environmental rule called boiler MACT, which stands for maximum achievable control technology that was published, first published in the early 2000s, was finalized pretty much in 2013. So we have to comply with this new environmental rule. So we looked at several options of compliance. One was stay on coal and modify our boilers to meet the rule, all the way up to 100% natural gas. And there was some different conversions of coal and gas combinations as well as the biomass combination in our evaluation.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:20

Interesting. So if I understand it correctly, the the MACT rules, they have nothing to do with carbon emissions, they're relating to particulates and maybe lead or maybe you can help explain that a little more.

Jeff Witt 7:32

Primarily, they were articulate hydrogen chloride, and Mercury and carbon monoxide.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:40

All right now, thank you for that clarification.

Merry Rankin 7:42

Well, one thing I think to add into is that we also do have it's a it's a, it's a smidgen of our energy portfolio. But we also have some renewable energy sources within our portfolio, as well. Right. So maybe you want to talk a little bit about those opportunities, Jeff, and set that stage.

Jeff Witt 8:01

So we had been buying wind energy from a local wind farm since late 2010. less electricity from wind farm, that was about 10% of our total electricity last fiscal year. Okay.

Dave Karlsgodt 8:16

Yeah, that's significant.

Merry Rankin 8:18

We had contracted for that amount from the beginning. But we've just recently been able to achieve it, right, which is one of the reasons we sort of stayed a bit conservative and what percentage we wanted to commit to, is that fair to say, yeah.

Jeff Witt 8:31

We also have a small solar panel and wind turbine on campus, primarily more for research opportunities, and demonstration, and then power production. And then we are talking about partnering with the city of Ames, who is looking to put up a community solar farm, and the university will probably participate in that.

Dave Karlsgodt 8:54

Excellent, what type of scale? Are you thinking in that?

Jeff Witt 8:57

They are talking 1500 to 2000 kilowatt solar farm? We have talked to them about 500 kilowatts at this point. But that contracts aren't in place or anything, at this point. Sure.

Dave Karlsgodt 9:14

Okay. Well, I'm sorry, is it true that you're you've been producing or you have the ability to produce all of your own electricity? And but you are purchasing what, what has gone into that decision? Are there times where it's cheaper for you to produce your own versus buying from the grid? Or? Or is that just more of a backup strategy for reliability or tell me more about that?

Jeff Witt 9:33

Generally, the power we produce through our code generation process is the cheapest source of electricity. So we're always doing that. And that's electricity that results from just supplying steam through our turbans to heat the campus and cool campus. So that's that we produce all the time, then we can produce more power with our generators. But that is a higher costs. So what our operators do is they evaluate, what can we buy off the grid for what's the price off the grid compared to what our production costs are, above the code generation load, and make an economic decision every day? How much the purchase and how much to generate,

Dave Karlsgodt 10:20

got, and if I, if I understand it correctly, to in Iowa, generally, at this point, most of the electricity generation is still coming from coal. So if you're buying electricity from the grid, versus making it on site with coal, you would be, you know, using less fuel and less emissions. Generally, if you were to produce it on site. Is that correct? Or I guess it depends.

Jeff Witt 10:41

It depends. I mean, yes, most of the power production in Iowa is still coal, even though there is a lot of wind. But that power off of the grid probably produces less carbon than power, we would produce beyond the coaching duration just because of plant performance efficiencies and things like that.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:05

So in other words, if you're making steam for heating the campus, then you can make electricity very efficiently. But if you're making electricity for electricity sake, or basically operating as a power generation plant, right, your efficiencies go down. Okay, great. Yeah, that's I remember that from a lot of other campuses. I've worked on Tues.

Jeff Witt 11:23

So we're buying from the grid. We make those decisions every day. But the the contract with the wind, we take that all the time. whenever it's being produced, we take it, it's typically twice the cost of other power we can buy, but we are taking it

Dave Karlsgodt 11:43

interesting, and what are the what are the electricity rates like in Iowa, just you know, generally speaking, average rates,

Jeff Witt 11:49

we we are not a customer of anyone. So we buy wholesale electricity. We do not have a rate with more local utility or anything. So electricity we bought last year was under two cents off the grid.

Dave Karlsgodt 12:06

Wow. Okay. Yeah. Compared to my friends in California. Yes. Yeah. Interesting. Well, it's it's been interesting for me to I find that a lot of the campuses in that Midwestern area, the Midwest, generally, there's I know, Michigan State had a, the ability to produce all their own power. Right. I think they still do. That seems more of a common theme out there, as opposed to some of the more urban areas

Jeff Witt 12:31

You'll see that I would say the land grant institutions are probably the ones that you see that have the capability because they were modern cities. Right. Right. You know,

Dave Karlsgodt 12:47

they they basically created the cities in which they know that right? Correct. Yeah. Okay.

Merry Rankin 12:52

Yeah. University with a city sort of, rather than a city with university. Yeah.

Dave Karlsgodt 12:57

Right. Right. So Merry, I wanted to ask you a question. So to get your perspective on this, because a lot of the campuses I've worked in, I see that the sustainability directors role is, you know, set up to be somewhat of a change agent, I mean, they're usually really dynamic thinkers, and, and working on all sorts of cutting edge projects and things like that. But then when you run into things like, you know, managing a large energy system, like Jeff's responsible for, there's a lot of dissonance between your roles. So I guess, first, just your perspective on that, and then I'd be interested to hear from both of you just sort of how you guys have interfaced with each other, you seem to have a great relationship. So maybe learn a little more about that.

Merry Rankin 13:44

Um, well, and I don't know that this, you know, goes across all campuses, but I will say that my experience that I always stay has been that I haven't absolutely incredible team to work with. Being a School of Science and Technology, you know, the expertise, these lives here, just by virtue, and I don't see my role to come in, and, you know, up in the expertise, but rather how I can, you know, be effective in collaborating and supporting and enhancing, you know, increased efforts, a diversity of efforts and build upon the foundation that's already been here, and already is here. And so I've been, you know, I've just had an incredible team, I have not encountered anyone at Iowa State truly that has said, the sustainability thing is absolutely ridiculous. It is very much been that, you know, everybody's been very supportive in, we absolutely want to do what we can, but we have certain parameters within which, you know, we have to make decisions and to really consider all the facets of sustainability. So from a standpoint of having conversations with students, and sometimes faculty and other staff, it's really in framing sustainability of saying, you know, sustainability is a three faceted approach. So it is certainly environmental impact. But it's also an economic consideration. And it also is a social consideration. And so from our standpoint, for example, at Iowa State, every decision we make that may cause you know, budgetary pieces to increase on one side, we have to look at, you know, what are we balancing that against, in another manner. And so I think that resonates a little bit more for folks. It's just, it's just like at home, you know, with your budget, if you're going to get, you know, if you're going to move and get this particular item of go on this vacation, all right, well, how are you managing your budget to, to not necessarily do something else. And so I think that, it having those kinds conversations with folks, it's, you know, we have to, we have to manage our consideration of where we put our resources, and what ensures that we are doing, we're doing our job in an efficient and effective manner. And also, we are making sure that we're providing a full rounded student experience, you know, for the students that are here. So I think I gave you a very long winded answer, I apologize. But the intent was to say that, first of all, I work with a great team that's very supportive. Secondly, I think it's the in having discussions of what we're doing it I was stay. And looking at the decisions we make, I think it's an important reminder that sustainability just isn't all about environmental pieces. And we really have to expand that and look, you know, full circle. And then, you know, thirdly, what I would say is that, I take very seriously asleep, my role in providing awareness and engagement and empowerment to our campus community, and also to the community and names related to feeling more informed, finding connections, personal and professional to sustainability. And then helping people find you know, those those relevance Velcro spots to where they feel that you know, they can, they can move forward, they can create change, they can make a difference, they can leave a legacy to future generations, I have seen on different college campuses, sort of, you know, the sustainability director being in the role of, you know, I don't know, if it would be the, the Gosh, we need to upend, you know, things and move a different direction. And I tend to see that I've got an incredible team to where I think that us all working together and collaborating together and finding solution. It may be in smaller steps, then maybe some institutions might move in or may feel that that change is effective. But from my standpoint, I think that you know, the more you meet people where they are, look at common ground and collaborate, I think you can create change, maybe in smaller steps, maybe over an increase time frame. But I think that change is sustainable, because it's been done in a team sort of manner. So again, it's a big long answer. But hopefully, that's been beneficial.

Dave Karlsgodt 18:38

No, fair enough.

Merry Rankin 18:41

Jeff is laughing here too.

Dave Karlsgodt 18:43

Well, Jeff can probably attest to that the people in the sustainability role, are are like to talk eloquently, as opposed to people in facilities tend to get fairly straightforward, you know, that engineering type responses.

Merry Rankin 18:55

So we talked about that all the time, actually. So yes,

Dave Karlsgodt 18:59

I thought this would be fun to have both of you on at the same time.

Jeff Witt 19:03

kind of tied to that, I guess, we're at an institution of higher learning, we take our role at the utilities department is one of education as well. So right, we tour a lot of people through the plant, and we talk about efficiency, we talk about energy conservation, we talk about sustainability, and the pluses and minuses of all that stuff. So that's, it's all related.

Merry Rankin 19:31

Definitely. Well, and I would I would add to that, and saying that I really consider one of the most important pieces that I can put into my position is not only considering sustainability from a, what are we doing at Iowa State, or what did we do when we went to Iowa State, but more so in making those connections that then are transferable as our students, you know, enter their professional fields as they live in communities as they make this about their, you know, day to day energy consumption and those choices as they volunteer in organizations. And as they raise families. And so, as Jeff mentioned, we talk a lot from this, about the idea that, you know, making overall change related to an energy system or something is a gradual process, it doesn't happen overnight. And it doesn't happen with a number of decisions that cause a lot of impact in a number of different ways. But we can go upstream, and we can make different decisions that impact the footprint that we all are making. And so we talked a lot to students about, you know, of course, express your consideration and concern and interest, and in what, you know, the facilities choices and operations and policies that the institution may have. But understand that from a utility standpoint, we are only producing what is demand. And so how you can make immediate change by just reflecting on those choices that you make on a day to day basis, as far as the energies that you know, that is demanded. And that immediately reduces our use of coal or natural gas or, you know, whatever. So we have a lot of those discussions, as well as here understand the overarching, you know, way that we go about doing business, so that everybody really does have a piece of the puzzle, that they can have an impact related to

Dave Karlsgodt 21:32

You mean, we can't just charge our iPhones and text our friends to go yell at Jeff for not doing what he's supposed to be doing.

Merry Rankin 21:37

And we can't just sit back and go, Wow, I am not the utilities director. So I have absolutely no connection to this, you know, it really does come down to each and every one of us has a piece of this puzzle. And we have our own space in our own time where we can make impacts individually that collectively are very significant. So it's not just sort of, you know, looking forward, it's also looking at, you know, right where we are.

Dave Karlsgodt 22:03

Excellent. Well, Jeff, I have a question for you, then I mean, by the fact that you were willing to come on this call with Merry speaks to the fact that you guys have a good relationship. Can you talk to me a little bit about how that relationship evolved from your perspective? Like, how did you guys get to, to work together? And I mean, just the history of that shyly the room?

Jeff Witt 22:25

Well, I guess, I mean, how long have you been here? 10 years?

Merry Rankin 22:30

Nine years?

Jeff Witt 22:31

Okay. Nine years? Yeah. So we didn't have a sustainability direction. Before that. We were still making decisions based on economics, and that doing the right thing? Merry came and started asking a lot of questions, and a lot of questions. You know, questions that the students had been asking, for the most part. So we took it as an opportunity to get our story out there. And to convey what she just conveyed, that they the students do have an impact, and their choices, make differences to what we do. And so it, I guess, I would call it a very symbiotic relationship, where we share information and help out help each other out that type of site.

Dave Karlsgodt 23:21

Excellent. So in other words, she was able to kind of be a voice for your department, because I I mean, I know, in the interactions I've had with most facility, folks at higher ed in particular, I mean, these are really thoughtful, caring people that care deeply about making sure you know, the lights stay on the campus run smoothly, and that the mission of the institution can be fulfilled, you know, the research and the education that goes on. But But, you know, as we mentioned earlier, it's they don't necessarily tend to be the most articulate people from like, you know, our the public communications perspective, like many folks are in sustainability world. So, I mean, is that was that a big help to you in that sense? Or was there more to it than just that?

Jeff Witt 24:00

I would say that I'm an engineer, so I talk like an engineer, I make presentations, like an engineer. And she would fluff that up a little bit, which has been good, because it helps connect to the students, more faculty, I mean, everybody.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:23

Right. So that's great.

Merry Rankin 24:25

I think we've been a good team. Yeah, I hope you feel the same.

Jeff Witt 24:28

Yes, yes, I agree.

Merry Rankin 24:29

Okay, good

Jeff Witt 24:30

public relations and, and marketing is, is really, I would say, the role that Merry is playing on our behalf?

Merry Rankin 24:41

Well, there are a lot of great untold stories, and I think, I find it so often that, you know, from the outside looking in, things can look very simple. And I think some of the great connections that, um, you know, Jeff and his team has been able to, to make, and we've been able to facilitate many different arenas, from student government to, you know, Faculty Senate, or whatever, has been sort of the Wow, it's way more complicated and convoluted when you're on the inside than you would think. And I think there's been a lot of appreciation for the real considerate and in depth and thorough thought that Jeff and his team, you know, really goes through in these decisions through the different interactions that we've been able to have.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:30

Right, right. Now, that makes sense. Well, so in full disclosure, I should say, you know, my primary job is, in a lot of cases, it's working with institutions on carbon mitigation strategy. So, you know, with that in mind, you know, helping campuses move off of fossil fuels is a big part of what I do. You know, that said, I'm very much a pragmatist and echo a lot of the things you've just said, because I recognize this is not the kind of thing where let's shut down the coal plant and turn on a bunch of solar panels. And we're done. I mean, I've been true,

Merry Rankin 25:58

but it can look very good, simplistic.

Jeff Witt 26:02

where some of the students come in.

Merry Rankin 26:03

Exactly, exactly,

Dave Karlsgodt 26:05

exactly. Yeah. Yeah. without necessarily taking the responsibility of their part in it, or, you know, the the benefits of the labs that they get to use or the

Merry Rankin 26:14

right, the fact that anytime you switch on the lights, they're there, right. Yeah.

Dave Karlsgodt 26:18

Right. Right. So, but But with that said, I mean, I mean, you guys, it sounds like you've made some pretty major changes. And you know, in 2013, talk to me a little bit about more than what does the future look like for your campus? Because, I mean, do you see coal use and 20 years from now? Do you see natural gas use 30 years? So now, like, what? I mean, maybe you don't think out that far, necessarily. But I imagine Jeff, you probably have to, at some level, you're planning quite a bit into the future. So tell me about what does that look like for you guys? Or what is it even if there aren't, like commitments at this point? What, like, how do you guys think about that?

Jeff Witt 26:53

So I guess, in 2013, we made the decision that we did. And that decision was based on environmental improvements based on replacing old equipment, and baseline economics. And, and we went into this at that time, we were going to replace her old footballers, with gas boilers. And it's going to cost you about 10% more in your utility bills, because gas was more expensive.

Dave Karlsgodt 27:27


Jeff Witt 27:30

That is not the case today. Yes, it's cheaper than coal. So we are burning a lot more gas than we anticipated, and a lot less coal, for economics. Now, there obviously, are environmental benefits to that as well. But if the pricing were to change, and economics goes back towards coal, we have that flexibility. That was what if that's one of the things that we hold the project administration, is you're not tied to one tool, you've got some flexibility to minimize costs to campus.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:10

Right. And that is that is something we run into a lot when I was working with campuses of, you know, walking in a technology where that once you've made that decision, you can't go back. I mean, that's correct. Yeah, that's, that's interesting.

Jeff Witt 28:23

And this, this project was $42 million, is not a small deal. Right. So going forward, or coal boilers are about going on 30 years old, they will probably run another 10 to 15 years before they're going to need to be replaced. I, there is no commitment. But I would bet a fair amount of money that we will not put it on a cold weather at that time.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:28

So when they run out, that's probably the end of it.

Jeff Witt 28:56

That's probably the end of it. So interesting, we will be putting in natural gas. Do I see natural gas going away as a fuel anytime soon? There's got to be some new technology to make that happen. Me, I could get electricity from solar panels, I can get electricity from wind turbines. It's pretty hard to heat buildings With as those technologies and the quantities of heat that we need. And, and cooling buildings. I mean, yes, you could use electric air conditioning systems and things like that. But most of what you see for sustainable energy sources are electricity. Electricity, our buildings, only 28% of the energy used by our buildings is in the form of electricity. Right? The rest of January.

Dave Karlsgodt 29:57

Right, right. So have you guys looked at at large scale geothermal, or geo exchange type systems? Is that been something in your equation so far? I know I Ball State has done that recently,

Jeff Witt 30:09

Ball State early on that, obviously, on a large scale. We have some small buildings on the outskirts of campus that have geothermal systems. But we have not looked at a wholesale, you know, putting in 10,000 wells. For geothermal, like Ball State, they were like 5000, they're all smaller.

Dave Karlsgodt 30:37

Right. Right. And I'm sure that's that would be at the scale of the investments you've already made. Right. So correctly, that Oh, yeah.

Jeff Witt 30:43

Correct. And, and they made that investment because they were also looking at having to replace coal boilers. Because they were 100% coal, and replacing old boilers and replace and environmental rules are changes. So they made this choice to go to geothermal, which obviously significantly reduced the amount of fossil fuel that they're using, but greatly greatly increase the amount of electricity that they need, because it takes to run the geothermal system.

Dave Karlsgodt 31:17

Right. Right. Which Yeah, which puts them at more risk in terms of if electricity prices were to spike, right? we're unable to generate it another way right there in Ohio, which is pretty heavy, cold. Right? Yeah. So it's push on the problem, and it pops out the other side.

Jeff Witt 31:33

So you know, we are looking at lots of ways of the buildings, those types of things to reduce our energy footprint in new facilities. But I don't see the fossil fuel thing changing anytime soon for the heating and cooling.

Dave Karlsgodt 31:54

Got it. So you need somebody to invent something new or some other way of getting that much thermal energy in place, or the price of geothermal systems to come down substantially or something like that. At this point,

Jeff Witt 32:05

now, they do make these new modular nuclear reactors. But I've suggested that to some students that hasn't gone over very well.

Dave Karlsgodt 32:12

We actually put that in all of a lot of our surveys up front, we always have that as an option. And it's always funny to see how many down votes it gets. Want to put one other campus at least be the first one?

Jeff Witt 32:25

Does it only take a couple small ones for Iowa State?

Dave Karlsgodt 32:30

Well, one other thing that was interesting, I wanted to point out was just, and I've seen this at a lot of campuses is those there's there's these inflection points, like in 2013. For you guys, it sounds like you made a pretty massive shift. But it was kind of forced by, you know, equipment, end of life or other decisions that were going to have to be made anyway. And those are the points at which you can kind of make these giant leaps, rather than just the incremental changes of, you know, turning off another light or something like that, correct? Yeah.

Merry Rankin 32:58

Well, I would just interject for just a second and say that, sure, while that's the case, I also really commend Jeff and his team, from the standpoint of, you know, being very, you know, light on their feet or whatever, so to speak, as opportunities come up. You know, we do look at how those can be implemented. So the, the joint when contract with the city and the solar project, and if we suddenly had an industry, you know, pop up that had this incredible amount of biomass as a waste product. You know, I think, I can't imagine just as we looked at doing the test burns with wood, I can't imagine that we wouldn't say, hey, let's do test burns, to see if we can incorporate it, you know, so while there are those, you know, moments that may be nudged you for, you know, different reasons, I also been so impressed from the fact that, you know, Jeff and his team are always very open on is very considerate of opportunities as they arise, and not necessarily in a, you know, oh, it's your 15. And we should look at something so,

Dave Karlsgodt 34:08

sure. Well, in other words, you wouldn't have been able to make the shifts you made without having done some of the testing and piloting of projects ahead of time to kind of know what you're getting yourself into, or to even have those opportunities to look at.

Jeff Witt 34:20

Right. And and I mean, we all we obviously understand that there is a desire, by our students by by the campus to be more sustainable. And so we are watching and looking for these opportunities. We're in touch with all these players that are developing things. And you know, the wind contract, there was somebody going to develop a wind farm, and we we got involved with the city of Ames and said, there's an opportunity, we can do this, it's going to cost us a little more money. But is this something that the university wants to do? And they said, Yes. And that's kind of where we're at with the solar farm as well. It's the same thing, it's a gotta be a little more expensive. But the solution is, is a combination of technologies. It's not just

Merry Rankin 35:08

exactly right. Right?

Dave Karlsgodt 35:10

Well, let me ask you kind of an open ended question. So you say you did have a giant influx of capital, to, you know, sort of magic unrealistic, but magic moment where they said, okay, Jeff, here's a big pot of money, go build the system you want or use it in the way that you think would be most beneficial? Like, I don't know, say, it's another $42 million? What would you do with that? Like, how would you spend that we're invest, that would probably be a better way to say it.

I don't have it just for the you know, just okay.

Jeff Witt 35:47

I mean, we, we have a very efficient plant. And this project we just finished was designed to allow us to enhance that efficiency even more, because you're your efficiency is driven by the assets you have in the plant. So if if we had another chunk of change to put into the plant, to we would be looking at what can we do to make the plant more reliable and more efficient for the long term? And and that would probably be replacing the coal weathers with probably a gas turban, you know, heat recovery, steam generator type system, that would give us more operating flexibility, and, and improve efficiency?

Dave Karlsgodt 36:42

Right? That's good. If you had if you didn't have to spend it only on the plant, would you choose to spend it in the plant or the buildings or you know, anywhere on the campus that may not be part of your job regularly. But if you were king of the campus for a day?

Jeff Witt 36:55

Well, there there are, there are a lot of opportunities in the building, trying to save a lot of energy. Again, you have the assets that you have, and, and no one has enough money on their campus to address all the deferred maintenance and things that are out there that need to be addressed. There would be some huge impacts there. You'd have to weigh those I mean, if you if you had a windfall of money, where would be the best place to spend? That's a good question.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:30

It's an it's a fun question to ask people just to see, you know, where their minds go. But great. Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. I'm really it's been fun talking in hearing the back and forth between the two different perspectives here. And do you guys have any other sort of closing thoughts you'd like to leave us with? Again, I, my hope for this podcast was primarily that I could go out and learn things I didn't know and get to hear interesting voices and things like that. So I, I my hope is that it includes people in both of your roll so but if you could just, you know, say a few closing words to that type of audience.

Merry Rankin 38:05

Do you want to start?

Jeff Witt 38:07

I think, you know, the awareness of sustainability in the energy field is, you know, that's where everybody focuses. There's a balance. And you know, Merry touched on that there's a social part of that there's economic part of it. That's what we're trying to convey. When we have lots of students that come over and say, well, you got to quit burning coal said, Okay, I understand what you're saying, and here's why we do what we do. And they understand that. So I think that is Merry mentioned, part of our role is education and training these folks to go out into the real world and do this, do the same stuff for somebody else. So, right, that's really what we're about. And no one cares how sustainable we are if lights aren't on.

Merry Rankin 39:09

Right, right.

Jeff Witt 39:14

Well, that's a piece that we talked about, as well, you know, definitely.

Dave Karlsgodt 39:19

I like that I'm going to ask permission to use that as an expression from time to time.

Merry Rankin 39:27

Yeah, I would, I would just certainly echo what Jeff said, and, and say that from it from a sustainability director standpoint, truly, without functioning in a I mean, it, you know, you use the the word change agent, and I think that, you know, looking at approaching something from a change agent standpoint is only really effective if you're really approaching things in a collaborative manner involves steak, you know, involving all the stakeholders, meeting the stakeholders where they are, and coming together, to, you know, see where the most impact can be made. And certainly not just looking at the immediate impact, but you know, the, the ripple effect of the impact of now, how are we how are we making change now, but how are we leaving change toward what the next generation, you know, enjoys? What, what sort of a world are we living the next generation, and I continually tell students that, you know, if we look at our lives the way they are, right now, somebody, you know, many years ago, even decades ago, cared enough about the life that we would enjoy that they made changes in their lives, they put the work into looking for different solutions and, and challenging themselves. And we owe it to the generations that follow us to do the same thing.

Dave Karlsgodt 40:58

I love it. That's a great place to end. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed hearing both of your perspectives, and thank you so much for being willing to come on and just be open and transparent about you know, this these difficult topics. It's it's like I said it was we were researching and trying to just find raw data. You know, that was one thing, but this is much more really what I was looking for about just why why is the world changing? How is it changing? How look continue to change? So I think this while I set out to do one thing, this was a pleasant surprise to find.

Merry Rankin 41:34

We're happy to assist. Thanks for reaching out a fun meeting on a Friday afternoon. As we're getting snow in the air.

Dave Karlsgodt 41:41

That's great. Well, I'm gonna go on a walk with my wife. It's her birthday today. So

Merry Rankin 41:44

enjoy that.

Dave Karlsgodt 41:47

Well, thank you so much.

Merry Rankin 41:48

You're welcome. Have a great weekend. Bye. Bye.

Dave Karlsgodt 41:52

That's it for this episode. As always, you'll find show notes on the website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please keep those show ideas coming and perhaps take a moment to read a review on iTunes to help us get the word out about the show. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai