December 1, 2000

Lake Source Cooling Plant Opens to Public

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After five months of pilot-testing, Cornell’s Lake Source Cooling (LSC) project officially kicked off its operations with tours of the east shore plant yesterday.

Speaking above the roar of vacuum pumps, Henry Doney, associate vice president of facilities and LSC’s project executive, addressed a group of about 50 people, including engineers, community leaders, environmentalists, consultants and trustees. Doney called the project “a series of successful firsts.”

The new plant replaced a system of large water-refrigerating machines, called chillers, with a mechanism of heat-exchange steel plates. Lake water and liquid from above ground flow opposite one another over the ribbed steel surfaces, exchanging energy while remaining completely separate.

The plant — a maze of five-foot-wide blue and sea green pipes running water to and from Lake Cayuga — operates by programmed logical controllers that coordinate field devices. Working year-round, the plant cuts back its peak load of 32,000 gallons per minute to one-tenth of its capacity during winter months. High-density polyethylene, the material allowing the pipes’ impressive length is also responsible for the project’s overall cost effectiveness.

As part of its permit compliance agreement, the plant includes a biomonitoring system that regularly samples one percent of lake flow, measuring phosphorus, algae, and chlorophyll levels.

Although the idea of deep water cooling is not original, Cornell’s $60 million installation is the first to make use of a small, freshwater lake. An experimental system in Hawaii and a commercial one in Stockholm, Sweden employ ocean and sea water.

Lake Source Cooling will dramatically reduce Cornell’s reliance on cooling technologies that release ozone-damaging chloroflorocarbons (CFCs). Because the system also uses less electrical energy, it cuts the University’s dependence on fossil fuels by an estimated 25 million pounds of coal per year, reducing the annual $1.5 million air conditioning bill by 80 percent — enough to power 2,000 homes every year. Managers estimate the project will pay for itself in approximately two decades.

“Our objective was to provide a cooling system for the University that uses a non-polluting, renewable resource from the community,” said Harold D. Craft Jr., vice president for administration and chief financial officer. “The overriding environmental issue was why we began it in the first place.”

Craft praised an elite engineering and building team for their timely completion of the large-scale project. He also gave special thanks to members of the Ithaca community for their cooperation and demanding review efforts.

“We sat through many tough deliberations as the project went through endless public debate,” Craft told listeners. “The spirit of cooperation and partnership … is something on which we can continue to build.”

In exchange for local approval, Cornell has included the Ithaca City School District in the loop of LSC pipes, which will save the school hundreds of thousands of dollars in cooling costs over the next 20 years. The University has also absorbed a large portion of renovating costs for stretches of Lake Street and University Avenue, which carry the water pipes.

Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, pointed to the project’s environmental importance as a central motivation behind Cornell’s investment.

“It will be a model nationwide,” Dullea said.

“We invested much of our energy and research into gaining an increased awareness of the lake,” said Lanny Joyce ’81, project manager, who set the idea in motion in 1994.

Joyce spoke about the priority of protecting aquatic life, explaining that all the data from the biomonitoring station is reviewed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which officially authorizes changes to the facility and contributes to ongoing decisions. Cornell has also hired an independent research body, the Upstate Freshwater Institute in Syracuse, to oversee the station’s monitoring processes.

“So far we have found no noticeable change in the lake environment,” Joyce said. “The concentration of phosphorus in the water, which determines the algae potential, stays the same.”

Through a Bond Act grant from the state, a nearby Ithaca sewage plant will decrease daily phosphorus output from 40 to less than 15 pounds per day, according to Larry Fabbroni, director of the water and sewage division of the Department of Public Works.

Despite the positive outlook for LSC that was presented yesterday, Rich DePaolo, a spokesperson for the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund (CLDF), criticized Cornell for cutting corners in an otherwise well-conceived project.

“It might have been a win-win project if Cornell extended the discharge pipe to a depth of another hundred feet,” DePaolo remarked.

By doing so, he said, the soluble reactive phosphorous would not cause algae and weeds to grow at surface levels.

Citing scientists hired by CLDF, DePaolo noted that the more general phosphorous levels measured at the biomonitoring station were not the most accurate indicators of potential algae growth.

Yet Cornell officials maintain that the project in its present form will not have a negative impact on Cayuga Lake.

Archived article by Sana Krasikov