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Boston Weather: 42.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Morning Steam Dip Leaves Campus Cold

By Dan McGuire
News Editor

The gas turbine steam heater of MIT's cogeneration plant shut down unexpectedly yesterday morning, leading to a campus-wide drop in steam pressure and cold morning showers for some students.

"At 7:38 this morning the gas turbine tripped while a programming modification was being made to remedy an air/fuel ratio," said Roger Moore, the superintendent of utilities. "It was a main flame failure - in other words, the fuel stopped going to the turbine."

The steam turbine, installed as part of the $37 million cogeneration project completed last year, is essentially a large jet engine connected to the heat recovery steam generator. The turbine normally produces 100,000 pounds of 440F (227C) steam at 200 pounds a square inch each hour.

Moore said that one of MIT's three boilers was brought online to make up the loss but that it took about an hour to come online. During this time, he said, there were "pressure and flow decays in the steam distribution system throughout the campus."

The steam line was brought back up to full pressure at 8:23 a.m., Moore said. Currently, two boilers are being run to meet demand and provide a level of redundancy.

"The operations center had a few miscellaneous heat calls and alarms, meaning that there were a few isolated areas that weren't warm enough," said Physical Plant Manager for Repair and Maintenance Stephen P. Miscowski.

Outage affects some dormitories

There were some reports of hot water outages in some dormitories. Dormitories heat their water with heat exchangers, which use the campus steam to heat city water.

Baker House reported problems with its hot water to Physical Plant. Bexley House Manager Linda A. Petralia said that a resident told her that hot water was not available at 8:00 a.m. yesterday morning.

Physical Plant is still trying to figure out what caused the turbine's problems before it restarts it. "We haven't started the gas turbine yet. It's not clear yet what went wrong" with the turbine, Moore said. Physical Plant planned to restart the turbine late yesterday evening. At press time, the turbine had not been started.

In the mean time, however, the reduced capacity of the cogeneration plant will not cause a problem. "We have three boilers which can serve twice what our steam load is. We have plenty of backup," Moore said.

If a turbine failure had occurred in the winter, there would have been no disruption of service because "we never run the boilers all out," Moore said. If the failure had happened during the winter, "those other boilers would have picked up the load," he said.