Virginia Tech®home


Central Steam Plant in 1931

The Virginia Tech Power Plant, located at the east end of Alumni Mall, began operating in February 1901.

By 1903 the plant consisted of three 100 horsepower boilers, three steam engines, and two dynamos. In 1905, more equipment was added to keep up with the needs of the growing university.

In 1909, one 180 kilowatt electric generator and two 300 horsepower engines were added to the plant, replacing the old steam engines.

In 1918, the power plant was relocated to the mechanical laboratories (now the print shop). A year later, in 1919, a new brick stack was built and new boilers were installed.

In 1920, new engines, generators, and electrical equipment were purchased and installed. Two years later, in 1922, two new motor-generator sets were installed. They are believed to have been the first three-phase generators used at Virginia Tech.

Soon after the work was completed on the plant, operations began to replace the individual heating systems of the campus with a central heating system that could expand to all future buildings.

In 1924, two 250 horsepower boilers were added to the plant. A third was added in 1927 and the underground steam tunnels were expanded to connect with all campus buildings during the 1928-29 school year.

In 1930, the power plant moved into a newly built facility on Barger Street. Some old equipment was added to the new equipment already in place, which included a Westinghouse turbine generator and two new 350 horsepower boilers. The stack, the most noticeable feature of the new plant, was built as a separate unit. It is made from a special radial chimney brick and is 180 feet high with an inside diameter of 10 feet and an outside diameter of 18 feet, nine inches at the bottom.

In 1970, several new boilers were installed and the four original boilers were removed to make room for boilers five, six, seven, eight, and nine. Boiler five was removed to make room for boiler 10. Work in the mid-1970's included the installation of a new turbine-generator rated at 6250 kilowatts and 12470 volts. As part of the installation, boilers seven, eight, nine, and 10 were upgraded from a operating pressure of 250 to 600 pounds per square inch gage and 825 degrees Fahrenheit, with associated equipment also being upgraded.

Between 1982 to 1985, transformers were replaced and the main switchgear and all motor controls were moved out of the boiler room to a dust free area. All major electrical equipment was rewired and boiler controls were upgraded to electronic controls. In 1988, the 4160 volt switchgear (which was originally used to feed town and campus circuits) was removed and the space was renovated into office space for employees.

In 1997, as Virginia Tech continued to grow and the demand for steam continued to increase, an additional coal fired boiler (boiler 11) was installed. This boiler was equipped with a scrubber and baghouse system to control particulate and acid gas emissions. Coal boiler seven was modified in 2007 and equipped with a similar scrubber and baghouse.

From 2014 to 2016, the three package boilers in the Virginia Tech Power Plant were modified to produce higher temperature steam to permit the steam to be used with the plant's turbine generator. This modification was vital to helping Virginia Tech achieve its goal of using more natural gas (and less coal) in the future.  

In 2015, Virginia Tech worked with ATMOS Energy to bring firm gas service to the plant, which will allow the university to continue converting existing boilers to gas boilers to provide lower CO2 emissions.