As costs increase, College looks to conserve energy

Rising energy costs have the College striving to conserve energy in the coming winter months, Lori Winyard, director of the office of Energy and Central Utilities, said.

“The College’s annual energy budget was submitted earlier this year, while energy prices were much lower,” Winyard said. “The recent run-up in worldwide energy prices will negatively impact the College’s energy budget.”

As a result, Winyard said, “the entire College community must work together to conserve all forms of energy.”

On average, the College is paying – and is projected to continue paying – 20 cents more per therm (a unit of heat energy) of natural gas than was anticipated in the energy budget.

The price per therm fluctuates throughout the year, as does the number of therms the College uses each month, Winyard said.

As a result, the College budgeted 76 cents per therm of natural gas, Winyard said, while the actual and projected price is now 96 cents.

In previous years, she said, the College has typically used several hundred thousand therms per month, although it varies based on energy expenditures.

“In the summer months, when there’s a high air-conditioning load, and in the winter when there’s a high demand on heating, consumption of gas has been historically more than in the milder seasons of fall and spring,” Winyard said.

She noted that the energy market has been exceptionally volatile in recent months.

“The energy markets, like any commodities or stock market, are always fluctuating,” she said. “The price for a barrel of oil or a therm of natural gas is near an all-time high. At some point, energy analysts expect that a peak price will be reached and a softening in the markets will occur.”

Winyard said the price of natural gas per therm has more than doubled since last year, even though the United States now has more natural gas in storage.

New Jersey departments also have noted the percent increase in energy costs. The Associated Press reported on Oct. 12, “The national per gallon cost for heating oil has increased about 87 percent, and natural gas rose 176 percent since last September, according the state Division of the Ratepayer Advocate.”

This year’s energy budget for the College is approximately 9.5 percent more than last year. The budget for this fiscal year, including electricity, is $6,019,430, Winyard said. Last year, she said, the budget was about $5.5 million.

Winyard said the extraordinary escalation of energy prices is mainly due to world events, including “the huge increase in energy consumption in Asia, and the recent hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, which damaged oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico as well as land-based oil refineries.”

The increased prices, she said, are “impacting not only the College, but all Americans, from individuals to large corporations, including federal and state government.”

“The rate of increase is alarming enough that both the public and private sector are devising ways to cut energy consumption,” Winyard said.

The College’s conservation program, Winyard said, is expected to be implemented before January.

To encourage students to help in the effort, she is working with a team that includes the office of Residential and Community Development and its assistant director, Sean Stallings, to develop an effective conservation plan.

Their hope is that students will pay more attention to shutting off lights, computers and appliances when not in use, turning down the heat and keeping windows and doors to the outside closed, she said.

Students are not the only ones being targeted, though. “I’m not just talking about students,” Winyard said. “I’m talking about everybody.”

“Since energy costs began to spike, we have been working on an energy conservation program that we expect to introduce shortly,” she said. “This will call for a campus-wide effort on the part of students, faculty and staff members.”

Stallings said the office of Residential and Community Development, in conjunction with the office of Facilities Operations, will be preparing its energy conservation efforts throughout the semester.

“We have not established the full plan of our efforts at this point,” he said, adding that students can expect more details toward the end of the semester.

Winyard could not say how this increase in energy cost might affect tuition.

“Tuition is calculated based on all of the College’s revenues and expenditures,” she said. “To speculate accurately on how one increased expenditure will impact tuition, without considering all the other factors, would be impossible.”

“We’re in a good position because we’re working on the plan and getting ready to roll out the plan before the heating season begins,” she added.

Some members of the team devising the energy conservation program have been meeting every single day, she said, adding that the team is working with a sense of urgency.

Winyard noted that the College’s facilities have always been designed to conserve energy and money.

The College uses dual fuel equipment, which can run on oil or gas, so the College can switch to oil if it’s more cost effective. “We’re always looking to get the most for our money,” she said.

This practice saves the College millions of dollars, Winyard said. “Our Central Utilities Plant utilizes cogeneration, a technology that generates electricity and captures and recovers waste heat to produce steam,” Winyard said. “This technology alone reduces (the College’s) energy budget by $2.5 to $3 million per year.”

Some students said they would be willing to join in the conservation efforts, but they think others might be too apathetic or lazy.

Sunjay Patel, sophomore international business major, said he probably will not encourage his fellow Cromwell residents to conserve energy because he thinks most students will brush it off. “I think people will be too lazy to shut off their computers,” he said.

Kenneth Morrison, sophomore elementary education major, said his computer stays on all night, but he is willing to conserve if it means saving money in the future. “If turning off my computer at night is going to save me a whole lot of money on tuition, then I’m all for it,” he said.

Ghengis Tan, sophomore English major, said, “I always turn my computer off at night … my roommate turns everything off, too.”

Tan tried to come up with ways to address the problem. “I think the school should start turning the lights off at night – like after three in the morning,” he said.

He also joked about another, less serious, idea. “You know how the College has PrintSense for paper?” Tan said. “I think they should start doing that for power.”

Jessi Kane, freshman biology major, said she keeps her computer on all the time. “I don’t think to turn it off,” she said.

Kane, however, noted that a campuswide energy conservation effort could help. “I don’t think one person turning off their computer would make a difference,” she said. “But maybe if everyone did, it would.”