UAF coal-fired plant briefly knocked offline

Tegan Hanlon

The University of Alaska Fairbanks lost power for about an hour Tuesday morning after an electrical upgrade went wrong, causing the campus's 49-year-old coal-powered boilers to produce so much smoke that some people thought the heating plant was on fire.

Smoke billowed from the boilers around 9 a.m. when an electrical update to the campus' switchhouse backfired, according to University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes. The University's heat and electric services shutdown, including the boilers' fans.

"Luckily, it's not 40 below," Grimes said.

The smoldering coals created a hazy scene on campus, which spurred someone to call the fire department. Grimes said fire trucks arrived, but there were no flames to fight. No one was injured and the plant was not damaged as a result of the fault, Grimes said.

By 10 a.m. power plant crews had fully restored power and then reconnected the boilers.

Grimes said the University's two main coal boilers date back to 1964. UAF has four boilers altogether, one diesel-fueled and the other using diesel and gas. The campus mainly relies on the coal-burning boilers because they're the cheapest, she said.

The boilers have a 50-year life span, Grimes said. The University is currently in the process of seeking state funds to upgrade the power plant and purchase two new coal-fired boilers.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.