Walking past Palmer Field, you may have noticed two large smokestacks near an industrial-looking building. They’re part of a power plant that provides 75 percent of the University’s electrical energy and all of its thermal energy during peak seasons.
Richard Wickboldt, the plant operations manager, supervises the plant’s 32 employees.
“I’m the captain of the ship, so to speak,” he said, laughing.
Charged with overseeing operations at the plant, Wickboldt has varying duties vary depending on the day and the season.
On a typical day, Wickboldt spends much of his time in meetings planning projects and coordinating staff efforts to make sure the power plant is running at maximum efficiency.
Wickboldt said the best part of his job is to empower the University to fulfill its mission – literally. He’s fond of repeating the plant ‘s motto, “Powering the ideas of the future.”
He credits the power plant’s success to the people who physically maintain the plant’s equipment and make it run.
“The people here are very dedicated,” he said.
Wickboldt is tall and affable. A New York native, he came to Ann Arbor in February of 2002. He still speaks with a thick New York accent.
Wickboldt helps make important financial decisions like whether to buy energy from outside contractors or produce it on-site during off-peak hours.
What’s the worst part of being plant manager?
“I enjoy my job, but if I had to say something, I’d say maintaining finances,” Wickboldt said.
He said the rising cost of fuel and the state’s struggling economy have made this part of his job more and more important.
Wickboldt’s work to improve efficiency in the plant hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Under Wickboldt’s watch, the plant won an award from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 for its unusually high level of efficiency.
One reason for the plant’s effectiveness is that the heat it produces travels through underground tunnels to many campus buildings.
The tunnels were dug by hand in 1914, the year the power plant was built.
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