Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 25, 2009

Bellefield Boiler Plant converts to cleaner fuel

The Bellefield Boiler Plant is on schedule to stop burning coal by July 1. The deadline was part of a consent order announced in February by the Allegheny County Health Department, although power plant spokesperson Betsy Momich said the plan to convert the six boilers to natural gas was underway prior to that order.

“Necessary plant and boiler modifications are under way as is the transition planning by boiler plant supervision and staff,” she said.

The plant is owned by a consortium of Pitt, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Library, the City of Pittsburgh and the city school district. It provides steam heat to the universities, hospitals, library, museum, the Pittsburgh Board of Education headquarters and Phipps Conservatory.

Pitt uses about 50 percent of the plant’s annual steam production, Momich said.

According to Facilities Management, Pitt is preparing to shift from the Bellefield Boiler Plant to the newer Carrillo Street Steam Plant to provide heat and hot water to University buildings. The change, expected this fall, will cut carbon emissions by 47 percent, reducing emissions by 48,000 metric tons per year.

The six-boiler Carrillo Street plant is in the commissioning phase, a period of testing to ensure the system works properly. When fully operational, the Carrillo plant is expected to have more than enough capacity to serve the current needs of the University and the hospitals.

The aftermath of recent heavy rains has pressed the plant into service, said Alan Garfinkel of the Office of University Counsel. Flooding at the Bellefield plant last week prompted an emergency call to provide steam for the hospitals. Garfinkel said the Carrillo Street plant was expected to continue providing steam to the hospitals through at least sometime this week.

Both the need for a cleaner-burning steam plant and the desire for additional capacity for future Pitt or UPMC expansion drove the construction of the Carrillo Street plant.

The Bellefield plant has a history of air quality violations. (See May 25, 2006, University Times.)

In 2006, the owners paid $175,000 fine and agreed to use a cleaner fuel mixture of coal and natural gas after the plant exceeded county air pollution limits for particulates and sulfur dioxide emissions during a stack emissions test in December 2004. The Bellefield plant also was fined $675 for exceeding sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission limits in 2003.

It most recently was cited by the health department in October 2008 for excessive visible emissions. The alleged violations were settled with an agreement to pay a civil penalty of $9,175 into the county’s clean air fund.

The health department estimated that the switch to all gas fuel at the Bellefield plant will improve air quality by cutting sulfur dioxide emissions by 99 percent, or 700 tons per year, and particulate emissions by 76 percent, or 170 tons per year.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Leave a Reply