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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 20, 2006

Energy saving efforts need a boost

by Samantha Beres

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, there was a utilities budget shortfall of more than $2 million. This year seems to be unfolding similarly, according to Dave Miller, director of facilities operations. The problem, he said, is record-high energy consumption.

While higher fuel costs over the last two years may have been pricey, the measurement in savings is benchmarked by consumption, not dollars.

"The good news is that the potential is there," Miller said. "We have to find a way to tap into that potential. We've done it before."

The potential is to save $1.5 million each year, savings that were achieved from FY02 to FY04 with the implementation of an energy-savings plan. But due to hundreds of exemptions granted to buildings' individual plans, the savings steeply declined over the past two years.

When the budget came in $34,000 in the red midway through FY06, facilities, planning and management staff developed a new energy plan. In late winter, the slate was wiped clean of exemptions and more than 30 volunteers from FP&M met with representatives from each building to determine fair, effective energy-savings plans.

It worked -- at first. Utilities spending went from being over budget to a $335,000 savings from January to May as the new energy-savings plans were implemented. Then came a few hot days last summer and requests for exemptions started to stream in. Some exemption requests had come in immediately after the new building energy plans were in place.

"We felt like we affected it, but right now we're pretty much tracking along with last year," Miller said. "We're seeing some places where energy is once again being used at a record rate."

Electricity, Miller said, is a good indicator of individual participation because people can actively turn off lights, computers and other equipment they're not using. Savings in electricity the first year of the energy program was $766,000. Last year it was just $43,000.

"There's no great big switch on the wall that you can flip to save a lot of money," Miller said. "If everybody just did one small thing it would make a big difference."

To elicit more participation in energy conservation efforts across campus, a new Energy Conservation Task Force is being created. The task force, created through the office of business and finance, will make recommendations to the administration on campus-wide policies for energy conservation.

Miller also pointed out that if the alternative budget model is adopted, it would encourage occupant-driven energy conservation with accountability based on individual decisions about energy consumption.

In the meantime, the thermostats will be set at 70 degrees this winter, two degrees higher than last year, to keep people in a good comfort zone in an effort to stave off requests for exemptions.


Exemptions and record-high consumption have halted success of energy savings plans.


"If everybody just did one small thing it would make a big difference."

Dave Miller, director of facilities operations