Heating Grand Valley

Hannah Lentz

As 2014 set a record for having one of the coldest winters on record across the nation, additional heat was needed to keep Grand Valley State University students safe and comfortable throughout the snowy season.

This January, the university spent about $11,000 a day on natural gas, said Terry Pahl, an engineer for facilities services. With more than 400 accounts for electric, natural gas, steam and water, heating the university is no small task.

As heat is a necessary and unavoidable cost for the university, one of the main focuses surrounding it is sustainability. GVSU works to reduce consumption from an individual approach and an energy project approach, as well as with negotiations of contracts. Within the last 14 years, GVSU’s facilities team has completed more than 200 energy projects to work to reduce consumption of all utilities.

“To date, if we don’t complete another energy savings project, we are still cost avoiding $1.8 million every year. Our total utility budget has averaged $7.2 million for the past four years, so the cost avoidance is a pretty good percentage compared to our actual costs,” Pahl said. “I would stack our energy consumption mmBtu per square foot against any of the other 14 public universities or any college in Michigan, as we have completed many energy related projects and procedures.”

Facilities is in the process of presenting more energy projects to the administration that are intended to provide about $100,000 more in energy savings per year.

GVSU currently has a group of about 15 individuals who have been meeting for several years to come up with potential energy projects that have a reasonable payback period. In September 2013, GVSU accepted a plaque in Washington D.C. for the 2013 Region III Corporate Energy Management award from the Association of Energy Engineers for reductions in energy usage and projects. Region III covers seven midwestern states.

“Everyone can do their part to keep heating costs and needs down,” Pahl said. “That includes students, staff and faculty. Everyone can do their part to help save a little or to reduce waste — from dressing a little warmer to match the weather, to dialing down the thermostat, especially when the space is unoccupied for periods of time.”

Natural gas is the primary source of heat at the Allendale, Muskegon and Holland campuses, said Pahl. Fuel oil can be used as a backup in case of an emergency on the Allendale Campus.

“Natural gas is burned to create steam that serves most of the academic buildings and in turn is used to create hot water loops for heating purposes,” Pahl said. “For the majority of housing buildings, natural gas is burned directly to create hot water for heating. For our dining buildings, we use both steam and natural gas to create the hot water for heating purposes.”

Most of the buildings on the Pew Campus also use natural gas to create hot water for heat, though Pahl said the university has to purchase steam to heat hot water loops in two buildings there.

For natural gas costs, GVSU pays both a broker and DTE, the university’s utility company.

“We do use a natural gas broker to help us secure natural gas pricing out two-three years ahead of time. We use a natural gas broker for the actual wholesale costs and a smaller part of the transportation costs. This secures the wholesale price and part of the transportation costs for about 80 percent of our forecasted requirements,” Pahl said. “Then, as we approach an upcoming month, and sometimes during the active month, we start layering in the final 20 percent of our requirements based on market pricing, weather and actual usage. All but a couple of our natural gas accounts are done this way.”

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