As it approaches five decades of service, the Atkinson Heat and Power Plant provides electricity, heating and cooling for about 3 million square feet of academic, research, office and housing space at the UAF campus in Fairbanks. Our programs serve thousands throughout Alaska, and our 17,000 alumni live and work in communities throughout the state. Our heat and power plant is the foundation of UAF’s statewide research, teaching and service missions.

Combined heat and power is key

University leaders made a wise decision when they built our heat and power plant. The cogeneration approach was and still is the most efficient way to use fuel, because the combustion process creates two products: heat and electricity. We get the most energy we can from the fuel we burn.

Aging infrastructure

Despite excellent maintenance, the plant is nearing the end of its useful life. The main boilers at the plant were installed in 1964, and both maintenance costs and the risk of catastrophic failure are increasing. With that looming, we studied a wide variety of options and spoke with professionals in the energy and environmental communities. Our best solution was a major plant upgrade, including replacement of our main coal boilers. This project is the cornerstone of a strong and diverse energy portfolio for the next 50 years.

UAF at risk

The Fairbanks campus is home to billions of dollars in state infrastructure. It all rests on the foundation of an aging heat and power plant. Since a catastrophic failure of the plant would be financially devastating to the university and the state, a decision was made by the university and the state to invest in a robust heat and power facility that will provide a reliable foundation for education and research well into the future.

Financial risk

The construction of the new Combined Heat and Power Plant will avoid the potential costs of a failure of the existing facility. If the existing boilers were to fail, UAF would be forced to switch to oil-fired heat and electricity, increasing annual fuel costs from approximately $9.8 million per year to in excess of $33 million per year. That would swiftly exhaust both the UAF and UA reserves and necessitate additional state funding.

Infrastructure risk

If the existing plant were to fail during the winter, there is danger of freeze-up and significant damage to nearly every facility on the Fairbanks campus. Purchasing electricity from GVEA does not provide heat to rapidly cooling buildings. The grid cannot provide enough power to heat campus with electricity, and even if it could, it would be cost-prohibitive. If the campus were to freeze, it could cost up hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the damage.

Programs at risk

Without this major upgrade to the plant, the educational, service, research and workforce development opportunities that support the state’s economic health would be at risk. A plant failure would affect enrollment and research funding for years to come.

Fuel costs if the main boilers fail


UAF energy solution

After extensive study, a major upgrade, including new main boilers, made the most sense, in terms of long-term operating costs and viability and reduced pollution. Embarking on this project now is the fiscally responsible decision. Our aging boilers would have needed millions of dollars in repairs in their coming years, and even those would not guarantee reliable operation.

Flexible solid fuel

The anchors to our energy solution are two circulating fluidized bed boilers, which will burn coal and up to 15 percent biomass to generate up to 17 megawatts of power and enough steam to heat the campus. The CFB is an efficient and flexible technology and can burn almost any solid fuel.

Diversified energy portfolio

In addition to the upgrade and new boilers, we will retain our two existing backup diesel and gas boilers and continue with campus energy conservation measures and exploration of renewable options. This plan will allow the university to meet its energy needs for the next 50 years and nearly eliminate the need to purchase higher-cost electricity from Golden Valley Electric Association.

Project funding

The total project cost for the upgraded plant is $245 million. The funding was supplied from several sources as indicated below:

Alaska Capital Appropriation/Reappropriation $74.5 M
Alaska Municipal Bond Bank $87.5 M
FY15 and FY16 Operating $13.0 M
UAF Revenue Bond $70.0 M
TOTAL    $245.0 M

The benefits

In addition to creating the foundation for a secure, diversified energy portfolio that will serve the university for years to come, this project is good for the state and the environment.

Environmental benefits

The new, more efficient boilers will result in a marked decrease in regulated emissions, including an enormous drop in particulates. This is good news for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which has been designated a nonattainment area by the EPA. The upgraded heat and power plant will emit 65 percent fewer particulates and still generate the same amount of heat and power as the existing Atkinson plant.

Benefits to Alaska

The project will create a significant increase in construction jobs and economic activity in Alaska from 2015-2018. In addition, UAF has historically served as a shelter for Alaskans during disasters. The upgraded plant will heat and power campus independent of the larger electrical grid, which will allow campus to continue to serve that public safety role in the Interior.

Reducing regulated emissions


Learn more; act now

Resources and links

Project briefing paper (PDF)

Real-time UAF heat and power plant data

FY15 budget information


What is the history of the Atkinson Heat and Power Plant?

What is a combined heat and power plant?

Do other universities own and operate their own heat and power plants?

Why do we need to replace the plant?

What kind of plant are you planning to build?

Did you look at other options?

What will happen to the auxiliary boilers?

Why can’t you just buy power from GVEA?

Why don’t you build a gas plant instead?

What about renewable power?

What about conservation?


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