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Cogeneration plant opening soon

This summer MIT will complete a cogeneration project that will supply electricity, heat and cooling to the campus.

The gas-fired cogeneration plant reduce MIT's pollutant emissions by 45 percent, to a level equivalent to reducing vehicle commutes to and from Cambridge by 13,000 average round trips per day, while at the same time saving MIT money on utilities. The plant will provide MIT with all of its steam heat, cooling and 75 percent of its electricity needs.

To meet the rest of MIT's electric needs, including times when the MIT generator is out of service and when MIT's peak demand exceeds the generator capacity, MIT will buy its power from the Cambridge Electric Company (CELCO). The petitions to determine those rates were submitted by MIT and CELCO to the Department of Public Utilities on March 15. A decision on the MIT rate is expected by October 1.

CELCO has historically encouraged rate payers to participate in a number of conservation programs intended to conserve power. These programs reduce the company's need to increase its capacity to generate electricity as the area's regional power demands grow. Acquiring new generating capacity is more expensive than using existing capacity. MIT's cogeneration plant will reduce the day-to-day demand on CELCO's power supplies, conserving its energy resources and freeing them up to serve Cambridge's future power demands-without having to acquire expensive new energy capacity, said Allen J. (Joe) Cavicchi, the project manager in Physical Plant who is handling the transition to the cogeneration project. CELCO could choose to pass this saving on to its customers.

Discussions between MIT and CELCO about the cogeneration project began in 1984. Both groups knew 11 years ago that the project was moving forward, Mr. Cavicchi said. Now, to deal with any short-term cost effects from the new plant, CELCO may seek a rate increase from MIT or from its Cambridge customers. Another option would be for CELCO to look to its shareholders to bear its costs.

A rate increase for MIT or for other Cambridge ratepayers is not automatic; CELCO must petition DPU to raise any of its rates. While the MIT generator will result in lower costs in the long run to CELCO, the DPU will decide if CELCO can pass on any short-term cost increase.

The determination of MIT's stand-by and supplemental rate comes at a time when energy companies in the state for the first time are looking at the prospect of competition. CELCO's unusually small base of customers-MIT is one of CELCO's largest retail consumers-may be a factor in its ability to deal with market forces, according to Mr. Cavicchi. Many institutions and companies in other states have already employed cogeneration, reducing dependence on foreign oil and using the limited quantities of fossil fuel more efficiently, he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 5, 1995.

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