Plant project impact on campus and community

How will the project benefit the campus?

The upgraded cogen plant improves campus resiliency by creating a more reliable power source with higher capacity (electric and steam supply reliability are improved during any and all operating conditions).

  • Safeguards vital research efforts and experimentation by increasing the reliability of on-campus power 
  • Lowers greenhouse gas emissions and reduces primary pollutants
  • Enables the campus to function during an area-wide power-loss situation (new turbines can start and operate even in the absence of external power) 
  • Improves MIT’s capacity to support future research and buildings in MIT 2030 capital projects program
  • Enables MIT to create a flexible power system that can adapt and evolve in response to future developments, positioning MIT to explore additional energy efficiency measures and incorporate emerging energy technologies as they become available

How will the project benefit the Cambridge community?

  • MIT will provide Eversource with a location inside the plant to install a new gas regulator station that will provide additional capacity and more reliable gas service for the area of Cambridge around campus (MIT’s existing dedicated transmission gas line will support this additional regulator station) 
  • This will help Eversource continue providing service to this area of Cambridge as it develops and expands, without digging up city streets and replacing pipes
  • The remaining capacity for additional electrical service in the area (not used by MIT) will be available for continued development and growth in this area of Cambridge
  • The burden on the Cambridge community in an area power-loss situation will be reduced 

How will the project benefit the region?

By using cogeneration to generate steam and electricity on campus, MIT is helping the region maintain high standards in terms of energy efficiency, energy reliability, and low emissions.

  • Cogeneration on campus is a cleaner and more efficient option compared with purchasing electricity from the grid and generating steam using natural gas boilers
  • Reduced energy demand from MIT means utilities serving Cambridge can devote existing capacity to continued residential and commercial growth without major new investments and without the accompanying disruption to streets and neighborhoods 

What will the upgraded plant look like and how different will it be from what’s there now? 

The upgraded plant is being designed to fit the architecture of the surrounding community, where the existing plant is located. A new entrance will replace the plant’s existing entrance on Vassar Street and will include windows allowing people to view the interior and experience a small cogeneration plant in operation. 

Will the plant upgrade change the local air quality?

Based on air quality dispersion modeling for this project, the CUP improvements will not worsen local air quality – and in fact may improve it. Modeling shows that even worst-case emissions scenarios will not cause or contribute to violations of national or Massachusetts air quality standards. In actual practice, the upgraded CUP’s daily emissions will be lower than the CUP’s emissions today and will rarely if ever approach worst-case levels.

Will the upgraded plant create more local noise?

Based on the plant design and projected equipment selections, we expect noise from the CUP to be reduced rather than increased. The plant upgrade includes noise control measures such as the installation of reduced-noise equipment, sound-attenuated enclosures, and mufflers. A noise analysis performed as part of the project shows that even in worst-case noise scenarios, the upgraded CUP will meet or exceed noise standards for the City of Cambridge as well as for the state of Massachusetts.

What impacts will the construction process have on the surrounding community?

PARKING: The North Annex lot will close, with sections of the lot closing as needed during the course of the project. The Parking Office has considered this when allocating permits in the North area.

TRAFFIC: During the construction of the upgraded plant, there will be some short-duration impacts to the traffic and surrounding streets, which will be reviewed and approved by the City of Cambridge and will be designed to minimize impact when possible. Construction work will also involve managing the flow of foot traffic to ensure the safety of pedestrians. 

DEBRIS: The construction work will be surrounded by safety fences installed to prevent debris from disrupting car, bike, or pedestrian traffic. When appropriate, netting will be installed to create covered walkways. 

NOISE/VIBRATION: Operational noise will be reviewed by MassDEP as part of the air plan approval application and will comply with Cambridge noise ordinances. Abatement methods to control sound will include:

  • Acoustically-designed building with noise-reducing treatments for ventilation systems and access openings
  • Sound-attenuated enclosures around turbines 
  • Mufflers as needed on the gas turbine air intake, gas exhaust, turbine enclosure ventilation systems, and on non-emergency steam vents
  • Reduced-noise lube oil cooler model (or standard model equipped with sound barrier walls)
  • Sound-attenuated enclosures for the fuel gas compressor and drive motor

WATER SPRAY: Excess heat is rejected in essentially any steam cycle power plant system. The MIT cogeneration system rejects much less heat than a conventional power plant because the system uses as much heat as possible for campus heating needs. Cooling towers evaporate water to provide this cooling. MIT recently installed three new cooling towers with improved high-efficiency drift eliminators that help reduce particulate emissions and conserve water (water droplets captured from the towers’ air streams are redirected downward, preventing the droplets from escaping from the tower). At certain times, a moisture plume may still arise, but these events will be significantly reduced with the new towers.