Utilities services save on energy projects

GVL/Bo Anderson

GVSU Facilities Engineer Terry Pahl

Bo Anderson

GVL/Bo Anderson GVSU Facilities Engineer Terry Pahl

Lizzy Balboa

Beginning in November and running through January, students living on the Grand Valley State University campuses will participate in the annual energy-savings contest to get in the habit of cutting down on electricity use.

Every year, GVSU hosts the energy contests between housing centers and has them compete against the three-year electrical averages of the same building. While the competition may seem relaxed, the university relies on students to cut back on energy costs.

After all, the school spends $95,000 each month on electricity in residence buildings, according to Terry Pahl, GVSU energy manager.

But electricity is not the only expense. The living centers on all four campuses use about $46,000 worth of gas and $50,000 worth of water per month.

As campus officials encourage students to cut energy costs, they also work to do so in other areas of the university.

This November, GVSU will pay about $26,000 for electricity, $102,000 for gas and $33,000 for water in the academic buildings on its four campuses. It also shells out to buy steam for the downtown campus, which cost about $177,714 last year.

Lesser-recognized expenses also add up, like replacing $95 worth of batteries and $5,300 worth of toilet paper each month, said Steve Leeser, operations supervisor of Facilities Services.

For Internet services, Director of Information Technology Sue Korzinek said the university pays an annual fee of $250,000 as a governing member of a Michigan university consortium.
Korzinek said the housing department also pays $7.58 per room with cable per month, providing for 5,579 connections in housing and dining facilities and 227 connections in academic, athletic and student service buildings.

The university does not rest content with its utilities spending, though – especially when it comes to energy.

Pahl said for the last three years the energy budget has steadily dropped from $7.3 million to $7.1 million. Most of the money—about $4.2 million—goes to electric costs. Gas makes up about $1.8 million and water is about $1 million. Steam costs the least at about $178,000.

The university has a lot of meters on campus to measure how much of the resources are used, Pahl said. “You have to measure and know where you’re at before you can reduce.”

And GVSU is dedicated to reducing.

It works to be sustainable and cost-effective through seven different projects and methods.

First is through its purchase of resources. Pahl looks for the utility companies with the best rates, monitors bills, aggregates pipelines and chooses the cheapest fuel source (gas or fuel) each year. The aggregation of property means many buildings operate using the same pipelines instead of separate ones; limiting the number of lines allows GVSU to operate with better utility rates.

Pahl and the Energy Committee also control building temperatures to prevent wasting heating or cooling on uninhabited buildings. Another savings effort is implementing control systems like sensors that direct specific utilities to turn on when necessary so energy is not constantly or needlessly used.

They are also working on installing efficient lighting, and updating infrastructure – for example, providing boiler tune-ups to save power. The sixth method involves renovation of buildings to add things like insulation or windows to cut down on annual costs, and the final method is doing things like promoting energy savings among students and monitoring sustainability efforts.

Pahl said most energy projects will help save money the year they are initiated, but some, like installation of energy-conserving lights, continue to save money throughout the following years.

For example, the university has dropped its annual power usage in Pew parking ramps by 60 percent by switching from metal halide lights to LED lights.

“We were paying out $61,000 to $65,000 throughout a year,” Pahl said. “I’m expecting we’re going to pay out $24,000 a year (now). That’s a significant drop.”

GVSU won an award in 2011 for an energy-savings project that will continue to pay out for years. The Association of Energy Engineers recognized the university as the first Michigan institution to install “aircuity” systems, which conserve energy in science labs. Prior to the installation, the labs experienced eight to 12 air changes per hour to bring in fresh air.
The new system samples the lab air to see if the room even requires a change. If not, only two to four changes are given.

Pahl said the first system in the Padnos Hall of Science a few years ago cost $38,000, but its estimated annual savings is $30,000, leading to payback in slightly over one year.

The university will spend $234,500 in fiscal year 13 to install aircuity systems in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. Pahl estimated an annual savings of about $78,000, allowing for a three-year payback.

Other initiatives taking place throughout the year are a boiler replacement and lighting projects in parking lots and the sports arena.

Some lighting projects are not only meant to conserve energy, but conserve the lights, themselves. “We purchase about $5,800 of light bulbs per month,” Leeser said. “As technology advances, we are able to switch to light bulbs that use less electricity and last longer.”

GVSU is also bringing in a design firm to perform an energy audit on Padnos to look for areas where money can be saved.

In yet another initiative, the university will go – and has gone – through one building every year to change out lights, install motion sensors and program air systems to act more cost-effectively.

Even if GVSU stopped looking for ways to improve utility costs, Pahl said it would continue to save money that it had been spending for years.

“We could stop doing energy projects, and $1.7 million is what we’re not paying utility companies (because of past projects),” Pahl said.

The university doesn’t just save money on projects, though, it earns money back from the energy companies. Pahl said utility companies offer rebates for energy projects, and GVSU has increased its earnings over the years.

During the first few years of the program, the university earned only about $15,000 back, but last year it earned $145,000, and Pahl expects about $165,000 this year.
But he won’t take time to celebrate.

“We don’t do a good job of patting ourselves on the back,” Pahl said. “We’re busy doing projects.”

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