AWR Blog

by Hannah Ryan

In a last minute press conference called at noon today, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom announced an indefinite halt to the proposed wood-burning biomass boiler plant to heat campus.

Halting the biomass plant

He cited the price of natural gas, emission concerns and the deteriorating debate on the issue to be his reasons for halting the plant.

“We’ve seen sustained low prices in natural gas,” Engstrom said to questions from the media. “Who knows where they will go in the future.”

Reading from a prepared statement Engstrom cited high prices of natural gas as an incentive to build a biomass plant when the University first began looking into the project. Now that gas prices have gone down, he said he does not wish commit the University to a project with potential for financial loss.

Emissions were a factor in his decision to stop the plant, even though he said the plant’s emissions were projected within the legal limits. But because burning wood produces more emissions than burning natural gas, the delicate nature of the Missoula air shed could be negatively impacted, he said.

“I’m happy with this decision because I date back to what air quality used to be like in Missoula,” said Missoula resident Ian Lange. “Now the university needs to look at upgrading their current natural gas system to make it more efficient and actually decrease its carbon footprint.”

The president’s decision was also based on the deteriorated debate between UM officials and community members pertaining to the plant. Engstrom apologized to the public for his vice president’s comments that called people opposing the biomass plant “eco-terrorists.” “Vice President Duringer is not here because I wanted to make the apology on behalf of the entire University,” Engstrom said in response to questions from the media as to Duringer’s whereabouts.

To date, the total investment into the biomass plant is $541,000. This money covered the costs of contracting the companies called Nexterra and McKinstry to conduct feasibility studies for a biomass plant at UM.

UM student Patrick Rhea said these investments were not a waste. Good ideas don’t come from nowhere, he said, things like biomass take a lot of consideration and research.

“Students feel this project has a lot of potential,” he said. “We should celebrate good ideas that the University has attempted that work on.”

The University keeps records of proposed projects that ultimately fail, so it could be revived in the future. However, Engstrom said he doesn’t see that happening any time soon.

Location settled for new COT

In a second announcement, Engstrom announced the existing plan to build a new College of Technology on the South Campus and the University Golf Course will move forward.

“We are not just planning for a new COT,” Engstrom said in his statement, “We are planning for the next several decades, indeed, the next century of growth for the University of Montana.”

The first building for the COT will not cause the golf course to close but future buildings will require its closure. This is to assure that UM can continue to expand as student demand increases for a university education and facilities, he said.

Originally posted here.

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