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Energy efficiency on campus to save budget millions

Gregory Jones | Staff Writer

My time here has spanned most of the last decade, so I feel comfortable discussing the university’s actions in regards to conservation and remain assured I am not narrowly selecting a small sample of its history. The university’s energy efficiency has been outdated for the bulk of its existence.

To be fair, for most of that time energy concerns were little more than a whisper from a minority of students, faculty and staff. Given the source of energy has been dominated by fossil fuels and that there was little or no question about the harmful effects of extraction or pollution and such power was relatively inexpensive, there was no alarm sounding when someone left the lights on all night in Browning.

But as time has issued forward, such given statements have fallen to the background. Now days, there’s an uproar for energy efficiency and energy which is clean, less environmentally demanding, less expensive and less hazardous to human health. Yet, in checking the numbers, we’ve made little progress out of the energy dark age.

The university’s utility budget has been steadily increasing until very recently. In 2009, APSU spent $4.7 million on utilities; about $4.1 million in 2008 and $3.9 million in 2007. But, it’s not all bad news. In 2010, an important phase of the Ameresco project was completed.

From this project we’ve made significant improvements to the university’s boiler system, which drastically decreased the total expense on utilities. Additionally, a three-part steam line project is underway, which will replace the degraded pipes transferring steam across campus. Have you seen steam rising from various grates on the sidewalks? Probably not as much since phase one of the steam line project completed last summer, but I’m sure you have noticed.

I was under the impression steam was intentionally being emitted or eliminated as excess from the boiler. In reality, what you’re witnessing are dollar bills dispersing into the wind. In meeting with Timothy Hurst, assistant vice president for Finance, I was informed steam is being lost all over campus as a result of the inefficient and deteriorating pipes. Fortunately, phases two and three are scheduled to begin shortly, so this costly problem should be corrected soon.

I mentioned the significant decrease in utility costs. How much, you ask? Last year, the utility bill totaled about $3.9 million. As the current figure shows, APSU stands to spend roughly $3 million in 2011. That’s about 25 percent lower than the projected budget this fiscal year. If you follow the trend of utility costs, you find the university hasn’t been this far under budget in quite some time. And there’s good evidence the university’s decision to update the boiler and steam lines is responsible.

The Ameresco project cost around $7 million. If APSU saves at least $1 million annually, it’s pretty clear the project will pay for itself in due time. There isn’t much question about whether or not investments in energy efficiency projects are a good idea. The savings alone speak for that.

The big question is where will those savings go? Tennessee is currently facing a serious budget problem and surely large savings, like those from the Ameresco project, will be factored into how the university will continue to operate without pulling on students’ pockets any more than necessary.

While I think it is a respectable decision, I have to disagree it would be the wisest use of the money. I think savings from conservation or sustainable projects should be reinvested into other projects. A large investment in renewable energy could be the ticket to getting ahead of surging energy costs and gaining distance from sources of power, which pose potential hazards to humans and the environment.

As many students have suggested, we could erect solar canopies over all of the campus’ parking lots and attach them to adjacent buildings. A solar project of that scale could immediately and substantially reduce the university’s total energy consumption.
Some would disregard such a project due to its cost. But, as we’ve seen, sometimes energy projects can pay for themselves. In the long run, investing in clean energy is a small price to pay. TAS

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