Green Solutions: Combined Heat And Power Helps Fuel Convention Center

Convention center uses on-site power generation to produce clean energy that also reduces utility bills.
Convention center uses on-site power generation to produce clean energy that also reduces utility bills.

Green Solutions: Combined Heat And Power Helps Fuel Convention Center

Green Solutions: Combined Heat And Power Helps Fuel Convention Center

By Anne Cosgrove 
Published in the May 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

James W. "J.T." Thielman, director of operations, SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, OH

In an effort to reduce peak demand rates for the electric purchased from the local utility, officials at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, OH needed a strategy. James W. “J.T.” Thielman, director of operations, recounts how they found a solution.

How many years have you been in facility management?
I have been involved in facility management for more than 17 years, with the past 11 years at the convention center.

Please give a brief description of the facilities you oversee.
The SeaGate Convention Centre is a 360,000 gross square foot multipurpose facility that hosts a variety of events including conventions and trade shows, concerts and family entertainment shows, and sporting events.

The organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity, and the county owns the building.

When and how did you become interested in environmental issues?
My first taste of environmental issues was during junior high school while growing up in Toledo. This is a port city on the western edge of Lake Erie, and I enjoyed boating, water sports, and fishing. In the late 1960s, Lake Erie was declared a “dead lake,” because of pollution and agricultural runoff. The fish were dying, and the water had a stench. Lake Erie’s decline even made it into a Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. In 1972, thanks to public outcry, the U.S. and Canada signed the Great Lake Clean Water Act, and the lake has made a remarkable comeback. Today, it is known as the “Walleye Capital of The World.”

What defines the green philosophy your organization would like to convey?
Although we have been implementing green solutions since the mid-1990s, the focus has been on cost savings. Over time, we recognized that cost savings and environmentally friendly solutions could go hand in hand.

Why was the decision made to pursue this project?
We are in a very competitive regional market. To keep our rates attractive to clients, we are constantly looking for ways to reduce utility costs.

The convention center is on a peak demand rate schedule with the local electric utility, which means when it hits peak demand, that sets the rate for the entire month. We didn’t have any control over when we hit our peak demand, since it was a function of our event schedule.

Please describe the decision making and research process for this project.
We first considered using our 500 kilowatt, diesel powered emergency backup generator when we knew peak demands were going to occur. However, it was time consuming to start up the generator.

During this time, our HVAC specialist, John Mildon, was networking with his counterpart at the nationally renowned Toledo Museum of Art, which had just installed microturbines. In a process called CHP (combined heat and power), these microturbines not only produce electricity on-site, but they also produce exhaust heat. We visited the museum and became very intrigued.

Next, we contacted an energy consultant, David Blair of BHP Energy Solutions, who had worked with the museum on its project. He presented us with a proposal to install four Capstone C-60 CHP microturbines. This array would not only shave peaks of electric demand, but would also produce 240 kilowatts of electricity on-site, about 50% of our overall load. The microturbines we specified use natural gas, but they can also run on renewable fuels.

The bonus is we can heat our building with the exhaust heat. We’ve run our boiler loop through the microturbine’s heat exchanger to meet most of our demand.

What was the vendor selection process like? Did you feel limited?
When we chose to work with BHP Energy Solutions, our vendor selection was pretty much mapped out. There are only several microturbine manufacturers in the world, and our research and reference checks led us to choose Capstone.

What was the reaction of upper management to this project?
Our president and CEO, Jim Donnelly, was very supportive of the project as he has been with our past energy conservation projects.

What economic benefits do you expect to reap as a result of this project?
The impact was immediate. Our studies indicated a possible 40% reduction of electric consumption from the utility when running all four turbines. The project went online in November 2005, and to date we have been realizing a 50% to 60% reduction in electric consumption from the utility. With our electric rate and peak demand, this equals more than $125,000 in annual savings.

While we have seen a slight increase in natural gas consumption in the winter months, we are using it much more efficiently by capturing the waste heat from the microturbine exhaust and avoiding the need to fire our boilers.

What were some of the non-economic challenges and highlights?
One of the highlights is how clean burning the units are. The microturbines emit 0.15 pounds per megawatt hour of nitrogen oxide (NOx) compared to a national average of 3.0 pounds and 4.9 pounds from our local utility. The turbines emit 0.28 tons per megawatt hour of carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to the national average 0.70 tons and 0.98 tons from our local utility. They emit 0.02 pounds per megawatt hour of sulfur dioxide (SO2) compared to a national average of 6.0 pounds and 13.5 pounds from our utility.

Another highlight was that John Mildon and our electrical specialist, Craig Sankowski, were able to perform all the electrical installation needs.

As a green approach, did this project cost more, less, or the same as a standard project of the same size? What is the anticipated ROI?
The cost was less at $596,097. We received a grant from the Ohio Department of Development, Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) for $150,000. We secured a low interest loan through the OEE for the remainder.

The ROI is estimated to be three to a little over three-and-a-half years based on the volatility of energy costs.

Have you applied for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council?
We are doing a self assessment for LEED for Existing Buildings. We have found a lot of our projects and policies qualify for points toward certification. We believe it worthwhile to be certified and would use it as a marketing tool.

What has been the reaction to the project inside your organization?
The reaction has been very positive. Our HVAC specialist, John Mildon, was instrumental from the beginning, and our electrical specialist, Craig Sankowski, was able to perform all of the electrical installation needs. Not only does that kind of participation give the team ownership, it also gives them an intimate working knowledge of the turbines and system design. Needless to say we also have had a positive response from our finance department.

How has the community responded to this project?
The community response was great. Our project was deemed a case study by the Ohio Department of Development, which means we open our books and our doors to the public and document a “before and after” look at the project.

In November 2005, we had a ribbon cutting ceremony with our local Congresswoman, Marcy Kaptur and our County Commissioner, Pete Gerkin, along with other business and community leaders. As far as we know we are the first convention center in the country that is generating electricity on-site with microturbines. It has created a lot of buzz and excitement in the community, especially with building owners and managers.

Why should facility professionals consider a green solution whenever the opportunity is present? How can they find out more about the implications?
It used to be that green solutions would cost more, but now I think we have seen a shift to cost savings and green solutions going hand in hand, or at least equal to other options.

I like trade magazines like TFM as resources, and the Internet is an excellent resource for sharing ideas and real time feedback.

What was the most professionally rewarding aspect of this project?
The most rewarding thing is to see a successful team effort, from project management to consulting to finance and finally to installation and system implementation. It is also rewarding to be able to pass on savings to our clients.

Questions about this project can be sent to J.T. Thielman at [email protected]


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