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Mass. Department of Environmental Protection set to approve application for Central Utilities Plant upgrade

Public hearing scheduled for May 22.
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Monica Lee
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MIT Department of Facilities
Conceptual sketch of the upgraded Central Utilities Plant, as viewed from Portland Street
Conceptual sketch of the upgraded Central Utilities Plant, as viewed from Portland Street
Illustration courtesy of Ellenzweig Architects.

In its efforts to upgrade the on-campus Central Utilities Plant (CUP), MIT has been advancing along a path of rigorous planning and meticulous permit applications. This summer, the Institute hopes to break ground on the project, based on the fact that one of the final permitting steps — approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environment Protection (MassDEP) — is near completion.

For more than 20 years, MIT has produced a portion of its own power on campus through cogeneration, a highly efficient combined heat and power process that generates electrical and thermal power simultaneously. The cogeneration facility in the CUP currently provides electricity, steam heat, and chilled water to more than 100 buildings on campus. However, the 21-megawatt gas turbine at the heart of the plant has been running since 1995 and is reaching the end of its useful life.

The upgrade project will replace the existing gas turbine with two new turbines, improving power reliability and overall cycle efficiency. Flexible in design and adaptable to change, the upgraded power system will serve as a bridge to the future, enabling MIT to incorporate new energy technologies, equipment, and other innovations as they emerge. The upgrade is one of the key components of MIT’s plan to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions at least 32 percent by 2030.

Permitting process

To date, the CUP upgrade project has moved through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation permit process and the environmental review required by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), which required a public hearing and comment procedure. The current MassDEP process ensures that the upgraded plant will comply with state and federal air quality regulations, state noise policy, and federal Clean Air Act regulations.

Specifically, MIT has applied to MassDEP for the necessary approval and permit to operate two 22 megawatt (MW) gas turbines, each with an associated heat recovery steam generator equipped with duct firing capability, and one 2 MW emergency engine. In addition, MIT is seeking approval to change its fuel usage in five existing boilers, eliminating the use of No. 6 oil and shifting the entire CUP to cleaner fuels (natural gas as the primary fuel, and No. 2 fuel for emergency purposes only).

MassDEP has determined that the upgraded plant will comply with state and federal air quality regulations and state noise policy and has issued a proposed Comprehensive Plan Approval. In addition, MassDEP has issued a draft Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit, which states that the project complies with EPA New Source Review regulations (as part of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments).

Public hearing scheduled for May 22

Having proposed that the permit application be approved, MassDEP will hold a public hearing for the purpose of receiving public comments on the Proposed Plan Approval and Draft PSD Permit before issuing the Plan Approval and PSD Permit.

Public hearing:

Monday, May 22, 2017, 7 p.m.
MIT Room 4-270
182 Memorial Drive (Rear)
Cambridge, MA 02139

Testimony may be presented orally or in writing at this public hearing on May 22. Written comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 23. Full details are available on the MassDEP website.

Learn about the planned upgrades and permitting process on the Powering MIT website.

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