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April 2, 2009
On the first leg of a statewide energy independence and technology jobs tour, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon recently visited the Northwest campus to view the University's alternative fuel production facility and central power plant.
Nixon praised the University's role as the alternative energy leader among Missouri colleges and universities and voiced support for new state funding of its fuel program, which school officials say has saved taxpayers about $12.5 million over the last 25 years due to the relatively low cost of alternative materials compared to natural gas and oil.
During a news conference at the power plant, Nixon noted that some of the boilers, which Northwest is seeking to replace as part of a comprehensive alternative fuels upgrade, had been in service since 1958.
"Obviously we've got a lot more options here in the future," Nixon said, "and that's one of the reasons I wanted to visit Northwest as we look at what we can do to transform Missouri's economy, to create jobs for the future and to encourage the mentality that would have us be energy independent."
Nixon, who is traveling around the state looking at various energy projects, said Northwest's alternative energy program serves as "a strong example of what you can do" to promote environmental sustainability while reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
"As we look at transforming the economy of the state of Missouri, examples just like this, all across our state, are what we want to incent, improve and make more efficient," Nixon said.
He added that initiatives like Northwest's alternative energy program, in which wood chips, pelletized paper and pelletized livestock waste are burned to produce most of the thermal energy needed to heat and cool campus buildings, are essential to the state's economic future.
"Obviously the economy of this state and this country is going to change if we are going to compete in the future," Nixon said. "One of the best ways to do that here in the Midwest is energy independence."
The governor said the entire state could benefit from Northwest's example in developing sustainable, efficient technologies capable of "greening up" the economy and creating jobs.
"As we build and improve power plants such as this, that's Missouri jobs," Nixon said. "As we look at where we come out of (the recession) in a year or two years when the economy is moving back forward again, we hope to have something that is better than where we started, and this is an example of something that has had a couple of decades to work and should serve as a shining example as we move forward."
Responding to a reporter's question during a news conference at the power plant, Nixon expressed his support of state funding for a proposed upgrade of Northwest's alternative energy infrastructure, which would include a new facility and fully meet the school's heating and electricity needs for 20 years. University officials estimate the cost of the upgrade at $12.7 million, and believe the investment will save taxpayers more than $26 million in fuel and utility bills over that same period.
"Northwest has the best argument," Nixon said of the proposal. "They've saved money. When they showed me this sheet of paper over here, they were proudly showing how they have actually saved money and made money for the state of Missouri, and they should not be penalized for that. This University in this location has done more than any university in the state of Missouri to be energy independent, and I think they should be rewarded for that cutting-edge technology."
Nixon granted that funding a new-generation alternative energy infrastructure at Northwest will be a challenge during a time of tight budgets and financial turmoil.
"But as we look at the (federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) I think we see dollars that are designed for energy independence," he said. "What we're trying to do is take an inventory of what we've gotten so far, so that Missouri, instead of trying to build brand-new things, can take places where people have the right mentality, have the right basis, and use that."
It is Northwest's longstanding commitment to alternative fuels, he said, that strengthens the University's bid to become a "bridge to the future" for continued development of sustainable energy technology.
"A lot of folks a long time ago decided to do this -- when there weren't tax credits, when everybody wasn't talking green, and when there was not energy investment," Nixon said. "The patents that were gotten here, the processes that are now mature, really form a baseline to where we can go from here."
Northwest's alternative fuels effort began in the mid-1970s during a time of dramatic increases in the price of natural gas and heating oil. The University ultimately decided that wood chips, generated as a by-product of the forest products industry, were suitable as an alternative fuel source and secured $2 million in private funding for program development.
The next step was a study that found pelletized wastepaper could generate sufficient BTU values to heat and cool the campus. As a result, Northwest constructed a building, purchased pellet-making equipment, retrofitted a boiler and began accepting clean waste paper that otherwise would have gone to landfills.
This initiative was a major factor in Northwest receiving the Governor's Pollution Prevention Award in 1997 and the Missouri Recycling Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Waste Minimization and Recycling in 2000.
In 1996, the University turned its attention to biomass sources acquired from industrial and agribusiness feedstocks that could also be converted into pellets and cleanly combusted.
Using internal funds, Northwest built a $700,000 addition to the existing pellet plant and, with additional money from the Missouri Department of Economic Development, added a second production line dedicated to transforming agricultural waste into biomass fuel.
In 2000, Northwest acquired a patent for its "animal waste to energy production" process. That same year, it received the Environmental Award from the American Feed Industry Association. A year later it earned the top rank of "Environmental Friendliness" from the National Wildlife Federation.