Project Update: Major Upgrades to UAF Power Plant

On schedule for completion in 2018

By Rachael Kvapil
AGC Summer Major upgrades to UAF power plant

Early May was a record-breaker for Haskell Corp. and Davis Constructors & Engineers Inc. (commonly known as Haskell-Davis Joint Venture). It may have even been a record for Fairbanks. Haskell-Davis was scheduled to pour 2,138 cubic yards of concrete in an 80-by-80-foot square, 9.5 feet thick, in preparation for the final stages of the University of Alaska Fairbanks power plant upgrades set for completion in 2018.

“We are hiring every available concrete truck in the city in addition to bringing up a few from Anchorage,” Davis project manager Jed Shandy said.

Mike Ruckhaus, senior project manager for UAF Design and Construction, estimates it will take 207 truckloads of concrete to build the foundation, which will support the ash storage silo on campus. However, this is just a fraction of what has already been accomplished on the two-year project that will ultimately cut emissions and increase efficiency of the campus power plant.

“As of the end of April, we are about 40 percent finished,” Ruckhaus said. “Soon we will increase the workforce by 20 percent and keep rolling through summer.”

The plant upgrades include a new facility adjacent to the existing Atkinson Heat and Power Plant that houses a new circulating fluidized bed boiler to replace the two existing coal-fired stoker boilers. It will also house a new steam turbine that will transform the output from high pressure steam to electricity and low pressure steam for building heat loads

The new CFB boiler can burn solid fuels (coal and biomass) mixed with limestone. Air flows through the boiler, allowing the fuel to burn while moving fluidly on a bed of sand. The result is a reduction of PM2.5 pollutants, the tiny particles that are a significant health concern to Fairbanks, and 20 percent more energy efficiency.

The power plant is key to day-to-day operations on campus, providing electricity, heat and cooling for about 3 million square feet of space. UAF had been planning upgrades for about 10 years before breaking ground two years ago. Since then a majority of the foundations have been poured, the main boiler island is structurally complete and about three-quarters of the exterior envelope has been completed. A bridge has also been built between the existing plant and new facility, and the steam turbine generator has been installed.

“We’re holding to schedule despite some delays in our steel delivery,” Ruckhaus said.

Shandy added that crews chose to work extra hours to ensure the project finished on time.

The $245 million project saw some minor changes to its scope, such as methods for tapping into the university’s water line and increases in size to the overall structures. However, Shandy said these changes have not significantly affected the cost.

“We are going to use every bit of the budget,” he said. “But we are doing well for a project that was estimated three years ago based on preliminary designs.”

Circulating fluidized bed technology has been around for almost 40 years, developed shortly after the construction of the Atkinson Building. The existing boilers’ two auxiliary boilers, one of which burns oil and the other, both oil and gas, will remain as backup. Prior to upgrades, the university would have to switch to oil-fired heat and electricity as backup, which could add as much as $20 million per year to power and heating costs.

Shandy estimates that the new plant will be mechanically complete by June 1, 2018. At that time, UAF will start a six-month commissioning process, when staff will be trained and everything tested and fine-tuned to meet efficiency standards.

“It’s going to be a really long startup before we turn over the keys at the end of November,” Shandy said. “After that it should be a highly automated process.”

Ruckhaus said that Haskell/Davis has done well in integrating all aspects and entities involved in this project. Though there will be some traffic delays along Alumni Drive during the spring concrete pour, he said there has been minimal impact to the area.

Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Fairbanks.