Mild weather, conservation lessen energy cost overruns by $500,000

Friday, December 8, 2006

An unusually mild winter and efforts to conserve energy seem to be paying off, as University energy costs did not meet original projections made in the fall.

“We were originally projecting our energy costs to be over budget by $3.6 million. It now looks like we will be closer to $3.1 million over budget,” said Elizabeth Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration.

Rising oil prices during the summer and fall prompted the University to expect a total spending increase of at least 10 percent early in the school year. In an Oct. 20 University-wide e-mail, Provost Robert Zimmer and Huidekoper estimated a near 50 percent increase in energy costs for the academic year. “In dollar terms, our energy costs will rise from $12.5 million last year to approximately $18.1 million for the year ending June 30, 2006,” they wrote.

In an attempt to decrease energy costs, University administrators and the Environmental Task Force, a group created to inform students about energy consumption, tried to recruit short-term help from students. They advised students to turn off lights and appliances not in use and to put their computers in sleep mode. Administrators also fixed thermostats at 68 degrees for the winter season.

Huidekoper partly attributes the decrease in energy costs to these energy-saving measures. “We are, so far, very pleased that the conservation efforts, combined with the relatively mild weather this winter, are likely to result in significant savings this year, ” she said.

Energy is measured by a metering system that shows how much electricity is being used at the University, said Kurt Teichert, resource efficiency manager and adjunct lecturer in environmental studies. He said he hopes for more comprehensive energy conservation efforts in the future.

Teichert said the University will turn to more long-term energy-saving solutions aiming at more energy-efficient systems. “One of the key things we face is in the older buildings that still run on steam. Steam is very hard to control because ait doesn’t allow us to control temperatures,” Teichert said. “We’re also increasing efforts at investing in electrical efficiency,” he said.

Energy conservation is not a new concern at the University. “These are all things that have been ongoing. The key thing is to continue,” Teichert said.