The following article, written by Matt Durr, appeared August 27, 2014 on Read below, or view the contents on

A new heating and cooling system has been installed on the campus of Washtenaw Community College that will not only save money, but will reduce the carbon footprint of the college.

The turbine-powered combined cooling, heating and power system was unveiled Aug. 13 as part of the announcement of a 15-year agreement between Washtenaw Community College and the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sprinkler Fitters, Welders and HVACR Technicians (UA).

“The combined heating, cooling and power system and the micro turbine both utilize the latest technology,” said Greg Steenrod, the vice president of GEM Energy in Walbridge, Ohio. “Combined heating and power systems offer considerable environmental benefits compared to purchased electricity and on site generated heat.”

Powered by natural gas, the turbine generates electricity and hot water on site for use in campus buildings. The excess heat generated from the system is then captured and used to help with air conditioning of the buildings.

“This is the whole beauty of this thing, you gain from one energy source, in this case the natural gas, you get the output of two different energy sources,” said Damon Flowers, vice president of facilities for WCC.

While it sounds odd, Flowers said the college uses hot water throughout the year to make sure the air conditioning runs properly.

“We heat water all the time, even in the summer. To make a chiller or to make a refrigeration system work properly, you’re really producing water in the 40s. So we have to temper the air with heat,” Flowers said.

The system will provide electricity, heat and cooling in the Great Lakes Regional Training Center and the Operational Education buildings and is expected to save the college around $60,000 a year in energy costs.

“The system on site will produce enough energy on site for about 50-70 homes,” Steenrod said.

Steenrod also said the system will reduce the carbon footprint by 900 metric tons of greenhouse gas, which is the equivalent of 146 automobiles. That’s about a 50 percent reduction from traditional power generation according to Steenrod.

“The carbon footprint issue becomes reduced in the fact that we’re not using DTE’s sources which are using a lot of fossil fuels,” Flowers said.

Flowers went on to say that depending on how much power the college uses, it’s possible WCC could sell some of the power back to energy companies as well.

Construction and installation of the system began about five months ago according to Steenrod, with the system going live earlier this week.

The total cost of the project was around $860,000 according to Flowers who said the UA paid for 75 percent of the project. With WCC’s investment around $215,000 for the system, the college should make up that money in energy savings after four years.

Flowers said similar systems last for between 15-20 years depending on how well the system is maintained and cared for.

GEM Energy also donated a second system that is being used as a training device.

“This device, this equipment will be used in our training program for HVAC students as well as the UA’s training of instructors and apprentices,” Flowers said.

Steenrod said it was an easy choice for the company to donate a second system.

“The turbine that we donated was really a commitment to the UA and Washtenaw Community College to their sustainability and training programs,” Steenrod said. “Because of that now more people nationwide will understand the benefits of combined heating and power systems.”

He also said being in the Ann Arbor area made WCC a great choice.

“WCC is just really a forward thinking college. With their partnership with the UA, with the training they do here, the fields that they train in, it just makes sense,” Steenrod said. “From a location standpoint, just being in Michigan and having a system here made a lot of sense.”