NYU disputes Reuters claim that its power plant ‘dirtiest’ among colleges

An investigation found that an on-campus power plant is less efficient than comparable sites. The university has since challenged the findings.


Samson Tu

Rooftop Garden atop 238 Thompson Street is one of NYU’s sustainability landscaping projects. (Samson Tu for WSN)

Kayla Hardersen, Senior Staff Writer

NYU’s central power plant generates more carbon dioxide than 80% of other university power plants, a Reuters investigation found. But NYU has disputed the analysis, claiming that it fails to account for additional benefits of the plant besides electricity output.

The university’s cogeneration power plant, which uses natural gas to simultaneously produce heat and energy, emitted 42,148 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA’s figures did not take into account the reusable heat output generated by the plant, according to university spokesperson John Beckman.

“Some university cogeneration plants are shown including both the electricity produced by their plants as well as their useful thermal output, whereas many others including NYU only include their electricity output,” Beckman said. “This inconsistency made NYU’s cogeneration plant seem about 50% less efficient than it really is. We are working on correcting this error with the EIA.”

Reuters analysts looked at data from the EIA for 103 power plants at 93 college campuses and measured carbon dioxide output per megawatt hour of energy produced. In total, the university facilities studied released 5.8 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2020.

Although the NYU cogeneration plant utilizes primarily natural gas, EIA data from 2020 shows that it also burned almost 8,400 barrels of fuel oil. The plant currently provides electricity to 22 buildings and heats 37 locations at the Washington Square campus. 

NYU has been vocal about sustainability on campus, pledging to go fully carbon neutral by 2040. On Nov. 16, the university held a panel featuring Chief Sustainability Officer Cecil Scheib, who lauded efforts such as energy-conserving windows, composting and recycling.

The EIA also reported that power plants burning coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels accounted for 62% of the nation’s electrical output, but produced 99% of electricity-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Located under a public plaza at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the university’s current cogeneration plant was completed in 2011 after a 28-month, $125 million dollar investment. Compared to the university’s previous oil-fueled plant, the cogeneration plant has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% and has produced twice as many megawatts of electricity per hour. 

In 2012, the university announced that it had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 2006 levels. Scheib says that NYU is on track to meet its goals of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and net carbon neutrality by 2040, as outlined in the university’s 2021 Climate Action Plan Update.

“We must reduce energy use, especially energy waste, whenever possible; substitute electricity for fossil fuel-generated energy to the greatest extent practicable; and then procure clean power,” Scheib said.

Contact Kayla Hardersen at [email protected].