Emissions measure may help U. save on winter heating

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Americans are anticipating skyrocketing heating costs this winter, but University officials say the cost of keeping campus warm probably won’t go through the roof.

Average winter spending on heating oil in the Northeast is expected to increase 21.9 percent this winter over last year, according to data released last month by the federal Energy Information Administration.

But Brown has taken steps to reduce the University’s oil consumption, with the side effect of potentially reducing costs.

On Earth Day last April, President Ruth Simmons pledged to reduce Brown’s emissions of fossil fuels burned in the University’s Central Heat Plant by 30 percent by fiscal year 2008. This winter natural gas, as well as heating fuel, will be used at the plant.

For the “shoulder” months of October, November, April and May – also called off-peak heating months – the University bought natural gas, “which has lower carbon emissions and in general is a much cleaner fuel,” said Energy Manager Chris Powell.

The Central Heating Plant emits approximately 27,000 of the University’s total 73,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, Powell said, and switching to natural gas during the off-peak heating months is estimated to reduce emissions by 4,000 metric tons.

In addition, Powell said, “natural gas is much more cost effective than fuel oil, because natural gas prices aren’t as much connected to the global issues that affect crude oil.”

Average natural gas costs in the Northeast this winter are expected to rise only 10 percent, according to federal projections.

Additionally, “we have pre-bought fuel oils for the winter … well in advance of this heating season,” Powell said. Heating oil prices tend to rise in winter months, when there is more demand.

In the colder peak-heating months of December through March, the Central Heating Plant will continue to run on fuel oil, Powell said.

Last year, about $6 million was spent on fuel for heating requirements for various buildings, Powell said. This year’s energy expenditures have not yet been calculated, he said, though he said “we’re certainly on track for this year” and increased energy efficiency measures may reduce costs.

“Our pricing is actually very good,” Powell said. “The good news is we really just haven’t had any impacts because of those pricings.”

The cost of heating campus will ultimately depend on the severity of the winter, Powell said.

But despite the new heating plant project, some campus activists say the University could be doing more to curb its carbon footprint.

“In the long run, I think it’d be really beneficial for the University to invest in running the heating plant entirely on natural gas,” said Julia Beamesderfer ’09, a member of the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee and representative of emPOWER, a campus environmental group.

“Hopefully it’s successful and can even be expanded upon,” Beamesderfer said.

“Only the absolute emissions matter to the atmosphere,” said Libby Delucia ’09 , a member of the EEAC. “They’re substituting some of it, not all of it.”

“Substituting it in October when (the heat) is only on for four days doesn’t count,” she added.

She suggested that Brown consider investing in projects that are “more obvious to the student body,” such as a community carbon-offset projects.

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