Now it can be stated quite literally: Colby has power.
One year the Great Ice Storm of '98, which crippled Maine's electrical grid for almost two weeks, Colby's physical plant personnel charged with keeping the campus running in the event of a power outage. They can breathe easier now.
Although the storm was viewed as an anomalous event caused by the peculiar influence of El Niño. But it pointed out where Colby was vulnerable, says Doug Terp '84, director of personnel. In response, Colby reviewed its emergency preparedness and developed a far-reaching and acutely detailed crisis management plan to deal with a prolonged power failure.
The biggest asset in Colby's strategy is a new, campus-based generator that uses excess steam from the College's steam plant and converts it to electricity--a practice known as co-generation.
Plans for generating electricity with the excess steam to reduce the amount of power bought from Central Maine Power Company had been discussed for a couple of years. The co-generation unit will pay for itself in less than five years, mechanical services supervisor Gus Libby said. Gross savings would average about $157,000 in the first two years of its operation, according to figures provided by Libby.
The co-generator's value as an emergency power supply is important, too. Since campus electrical service and steam pipes all run underground, they are immune to ice storms and falling trees. With the new generation system in place, says Terp, Colby can effectively operate about 60 percent of the campus without external power supplies. Cut off from the state's power grid, the steam plant and its co-generator could electrify residence halls, including at least one dining hall. The co-generation system also provides enough supplementary power to keep telephones operating on campus, which wasn't possible under the old plan that relied on the fuel-powered generators, Terp says. Climate control systems that protect artwork in the museum and sensitive equipment in the science complex would be kept operating as well.
The old crisis plan called for students to be moved into the Roberts Building, the field house and the science buildings in the event of a power outage on campus. "We could have kept students warm, dry and fed but not much else," Terp said.
Now, even in the worst-case scenario, in which the campus is cut off from Central Maine Power supplies for an indefinite period, the College could keep students comfortable in their rooms and could operate critical functions. "We can't run the entire campus," Terp said, "but we are in a position now to protect the safety and welfare of students and protect College property, which were our top two priorities [when developing the new plan]."