Award Winning Central Heating Plant

Award Winning Central Heating Plant

Project Overview

Completed: 2008

Architect/Engineer: R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, with support from Cambridge Seven Associates, BSC Group, Le Messurier, Haley Aldrich, Earth Tech, and Rogers Construction Consultants.
Project Manager: John Matthews

Many students admire the large curved roof and glass façade of the Central Heating Plant from afar, but are unaware of what is actually going on inside. Sustainability Interns were given the chance to tour UMass Amherst’s own award winning combined cycle Central Heating Plant.
The plant, which was dedicated in 2009 after ten years of planning, replaced a coal burning power plant dating back to 1918 and has reduced the campus’ greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 30%.

The largest component of the plant is a 10 MW gas turbine. It is essentially a large jet engine that predominantly burns natural gas (80% of the time) but is capable of switching to fuel oil when gas is not available. Gas supplies are purchased from Berkshire Gas and the amount required for purchase is determined on a day-to-day basis. The turbine is attached to a generator which it spins to and spins to create electricity by forcing electrons through an electric field by a set of massive, spinning magnets. This creates an electric charge, which is then converted to usable electricity by way of a large transformer.

8 to 10 megawatts of power are produced on most days, with an increase during colder weather. On the summer day when the tour took place, only 4 MW of power were being imported from Western Massachusetts Electric Company.

A heat recovery system generator takes in 1000 degree water and turns it into steam. The water is purified and cleansed of salts, anions and cations in a chemical room on-site because any impurities can lead to pressure changes and problems with the system.

Subsequently, a large heat recovery steam boiler with two steam turbines captures waste heat. This boiler processes 300,000 lbs of steam that is used to heat the entire campus. The entire complex is monitored by a central control room, boasting a 360 degree view of the plant.

At the end of the generation process, emissions go through a filtering system to reduce levels of carbon monoxide. The white vapor that is visibly emitted from the Central Heating Plant is simply nitric oxide and water vapor.

In 2011, the central heating plant was recognized as the cleanest plant of its size in New England and has been recognized for maintaining 80% efficiency over six consecutive quarters. There is room for expansion within the facility and the introduction of biomass as fuel is currently under discussion.


In 2008, the CHP recieved the Combined Cycle Journal Pacesetter Award for the best Combined Heat and Power plant project in the US that year. The award refers to its innovative design, efficiency, reliability, system redundancy, and environmental benefits.

In 2009, the CHP recieved the Sustainable Campus Leadership Award from the International District Energy Association. The award states it was given “In recognition of exemplary public leadership in advancing energy efficiency and global environmental stewardship through investment in an innovative district energy system.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the University of Massachusetts with the 2011 Combined Heat and Power Energy Star Award in an effort to recognize the reduced emissions and increased efficiency of the plant.

Central Heating Plant Entrance
Central Heating Plant Exterior
Central Heating Plant Interior
Central Heating Plant at Night