Conservation combats rising energy costs

The College spent $2,260,570 more on energy in fiscal year 2006 than budgeted because of a spike in energy prices after hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast in August and September 2005.

The hurricanes damaged natural gas processing facilities and oil refineries, more than doubling the price of natural gas, Lori Winyard, director of Energy and Central Utilities, said.

In the first five months of fiscal year 2006, July 2005 through November 2005, the College spent over $3 million more on energy than spent in those months in 2004, Winyard said.

In the last seven months, however, the College spent over $514,000 less than it did for those months in 2004 thanks to an energy conservation initiative launched at the College in early December, Winyard said.

The College paid the additional cost from operating reserves and the balances left in some department budgets at the end of the year, College Treasurer Barbara Wineberg said. The remaining balances came from departments that conserved spending in light of the cuts in state funding to higher education proposed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine in March, she said.

According to Winyard, the energy expense for fiscal year 2006 was $8.28 million, $2.54 million more than the $5.74 million spent in fiscal year 2005.

Once the conservation initiative began, though, the College began to save money.

The ongoing initiative calls for setting building thermostats to 68 degrees in the winter, four to eight degrees colder than before the initiative began. In the spring and summer it calls for setting thermostats to 78 degrees, instead of between 72 and 74 degrees, Winyard said.

Another part of the initiative asks students, staff and faculty to turn off lights, computers and appliances when not in use, and to keep windows and doors shut. When the initiative began, staff members for the office of Residential and Community Development contributed to the initiative by telling residents ways to conserve.

“We have been encouraged to remind residents about ways to conserve energy, like turning off lights when you’re not in the room, or keeping the thermostat at a reasonable temperature,” Kim Ahrens, community advisor in New Residence Hall, said.

Ahrens e-mailed her residents about ways to conserve energy in the winter, she said.

“I think that people being aware of the energy conservation initiative helped conserve energy,” she said. “People became a little more conscious about how many lights they had on in their room, and if it was really necessary to have them on when no one was in there.”

Additionally, for the first time there was a concerted effort this summer to consolidate functions into as few buildings as possible, allowing the College to shut down air conditioning and lighting in some residential buildings, Winyard said.

“A significant portion of the savings was realized by reducing the heating and raising the air conditioning set-points,” Winyard said. “These savings manifested in reduced steam, chilled water and electricity consumption. Certainly, everyone on campus who was diligent by conserving energy at every opportunity, such as shutting off lights, played a part in the success of the effort.”

From December 2005 through March 2006, the College spent $330,400 less, and from April through July, the College spent $184,000 less than it did for those months the year before, Winyard said.

Initially there were some complaints about thermostat settings not keeping a comfortable temperature, but the office of Facilities Operations “did a great job at rapidly responding to these complaints,” Winyard said. “Typically, the complaints were resolved by calibrating or repairing thermostats to read and control accurately.”

“Natural gas prices have fallen somewhat, but hurricane season is upon us and a large hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could cause prices to rise,” Winyard said. “Fuel oil continues to hover at or above $70 per barrel, so there has been no relief in that market. Although hurricanes affect the price of oil, so does the instability of the oil-rich Middle East.”

Ahrens said she has not been updated on the conservation initiative yet this school year, but expects she will be. “I know that campus residents will respond, because honestly, who wants to pay more in tuition?” she said.

The increased energy prices affected budgets across the country. Rutgers University, for example, spent $55.3 million on energy in fiscal year 2006, $13.5 million more than the year before, Sandra Lanman, director of Media Relations at Rutgers University, said.

The estimated cost of energy for the College for fiscal year 2007 is $8,010,756, Winyard said.