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The Daily Tar Heel

There may be a bit more coal in the University’s stocking than some had hoped this Christmas.

A 500-ton wood pellet shipment, scheduled to arrive at UNC in November has now been delayed until March of next year.

The pellets are part of a plan outlined in the 2009 Climate Action Plan to reduce the University’s carbon footprint by combining coal with biomass products, such as wood pellets.

Despite the delay, the shipment delay might be more of a convenience than a setback. Ray DuBose, director of UNC Energy Services, said testing the wood pellets during the winter would reduce the University’s capacity for steam, which provides its heat.

“Testing an alternative fuel during a period of extremely high demand for steam and heat would be problematic,” DuBose said. “We postponed it to March knowing the weather is not as cold and we can run a better test.”

But the delay has caused some concern regarding the University’s ability to meet the 2020 deadline for becoming entirely coal-free.

“This is a huge transition for a 10-year time span,” said Stewart Boss, co-chairman of the Sierra Student Coalition, a group that has been advocating for a coal-free UNC. “It will be pretty challenging to meet the 2020 deadline if we keep delaying the initial test burning.”

The transition to wood pellets was composed as part of the University’s goal to become coal-free by 2020.

Twenty tons of wood pellets were received from Carolina Wood Pellets in September. The pellets then underwent tests to evaluate the way they would flow through equipment designed for coal.

After the success of the initial test, an additional order of 500 tons of wood pellets was placed with the company to further test the capability of boilers to burn the material.

The second shipment was delayed due to a miscommunication between UNC, Carolina Wood Pellets and Norfolk Southern Railroad regarding the type of railroad car that was going to be used to deliver the pellets.

“By the time it was all straightened out, the University decided to hold off on the test burn,” said Robin Chapman, a spokesman for the railroad company.

Phil Barner, the cogeneration systems manager for UNC Energy Services, said the unavailability of covered railroad cars was another cause for the delay.

“These are dry wood pellets that absorb moisture,” he said. “They need to be covered against rain or they will absorb it, fall apart and become difficult to handle.”

Representatives from Carolina Wood Pellets could not be reached for comment.

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