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Running on coal

After years heating its campus with budget-breaking No. 2 fuel oil, Mayville (N.D.) State University plans to start making the switch to coal. The small Mayville campus paid about $200,000 in heating costs in 2002, about the same price paid by th...

After years heating its campus with budget-breaking No. 2 fuel oil, Mayville (N.D.) State University plans to start making the switch to coal.

The small Mayville campus paid about $200,000 in heating costs in 2002, about the same price paid by the slightly larger Valley City (N.D.) State University for its coal heating costs, President Gary Hagen said. But fuel oil prices have risen exponentially since then, and the campus heating bill topped $700,000 this year.

$900,000 a year

Hagen wrote in a column published in the Traill County Tribune, the newspaper covering Mayville and neighboring Portland, N.D., that the school would owe more than $900,000 annually for heating costs if fuel prices were to reach $4 per gallon, a real possibility.

That's about 6 percent of the school's total revenue from all sources this school year, according to financial documents on the North Dakota University System Web site. The university system hasn't given Mayville any additional money to cover the increase fuel costs, Hagen wrote. That means the increased costs all came out of the school's bank account and were partly responsible for a financial crisis the school faced a few years ago.

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Heating plan

The school plans to pay for the $7 million coal plant with a heating plan, which means the school will continue to pay the equivalent of its old energy bills with the excess payments going to repay the cost of building the plant, plus interest. UND is using a similar program to increase energy efficiency across campus.

Using a $3 per gallon fuel cost, the school was projected to begin saving money with coal conversion after 15 years, Hagen said. But as fuel prices continue to rise, that time frame gets shorter.

Though the school is paying for the new coal plant itself, Hagen said, he still needs permission to go forward from the State Board of Higher Education. Hagen said he expects to get the OK at an upcoming board meeting.

If all goes well, he said, construction on the new plant could begin within six months and the plant could be up and running in 18 months.

Keeping old option

Mayville will keep its old fuel oil plant in working order for short heating bursts in the fall and spring when fuel oil may be more cost efficient, Hagen said.

The school examined a few alternative energy heating options, Hagen wrote in his column, but only coal showed significant cost savings.

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Reach Marks at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to jmarks@gfherald.com .

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