Energy & Climate

The university's power plant has been providing electricity and steam to campus for more than 120 years. The original power plant was constructed in 1891, and was located north of the current Laboratory of Mechanics building. Campus energy demands continued to grow, and a new plant was built in 1906 at the current location on Beach Road. Since that time, the power plant has been expanded and upgraded to meet increasing energy demands and ever more stringent environmental regulations. The co-generation power plant is the only source of heating and cooling for the main campus and has the capability to generate all the electricity, if needed.

Though the university incorporates non-renewable fuel sources within its fuel portfolio to meet campus energy demand, reduction of non-renewables is an ongoing goal. In 2009, ISU and the City of Ames entered into a joint contract with a local wind farm to purchase the equivalent wind power of 10% of ISU’s electrical consumption. Though contracted to receive this percentage, various challenges with transmission capacity and wind farm productivity have resulted in lower consumption percentages. In 2012, the three Regents Institutions collaborated on a joint Environmental Strategies Study to help identify alternatives to satisfy present and future campus energy demands, while considering future environmental regulations, campus sustainability goals and life cycle costs. This led to the current renovations to the power plant, increasing operational efficiencies, as well as providing enhanced infrastructure to diversify ISU's fuel portfolio to include natural gas.

Iowa State explores efficiency improvements, alternative energy sources and other strategies to improve operations and minimize emissions on an ongoing basis, monitoring all emissions from the operation of the power plant, as well as operations supporting the day-to-day needs of the university. Reporting of greenhouse gas emissions is completed on an annual basis, and utilized for performance tracking and process improvement planning an ongoing basis. Utilities Services has tested alternative energy sources, such as construction and demolition waste, wood pellets and wood chips. Some of these products have their own environmental and economic challenges. Staff members continue to explore other energy sources that can reduce emissions without significant increases in cost.

Compliance with all environmental regulations is one of the responsibilities of the power plant staff. Because of the plant efficiency and the proper operation of the plant and its pollution control systems, the power plant operates at emission levels significantly lower than permitted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

To complement the university's efforts to diversity its energy portfolio, a number of energy efficiency initiatives have been put into action to reduce Iowa State's collective energy demand. These initiatives range from the installation of energy savings devices, such as occupancy sensors, timers and vending machine misers, to building competitions focused on behavioral change and winter break building shutdown, to a newly-established building recommissioning team responsible for monitoring all building systems to identify efficiency opportunities and operations efficacy. All of these initiatives have resulted in a reduction of campus energy consumption.


"The university administration has always felt that the right thing to do is to create research opportunities for our students and share that information with the community. We take it as part of our educational mission. We can’t go overboard and impact our economics, but we need to be experimenting with renewable energy so that way as time goes on and those technologies do become more efficient and cost less, we're prepared to use them."

-Jeff Witt, Director of Utilities Services