Energy conservation tops conference discussion

By Kiyoshi Martinez

With rising energy costs becoming a growing concern for public universities on strained budgets, officials are seeking new solutions to conserve energy on their campuses.

On Tuesday, facility managers from Illinois public universities gathered to discuss energy management and share their methods with each other at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications Building at the University.

“We’re all almost in the same boat,” said Phil Gatton, from Southern Illinois University, expressing his concerns about how energy costs even can affect employment. Gatton said conservation projects allowed Southern Illinois University to save about 100 jobs.

More than half of the energy consumed by the state government was by public universities, totaling more than $93 million in the 2003 fiscal year, according to a 2003 report from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Executive Director of Facilities and Services Jack Dempsey said the University was aiming to reduce annual energy consumption by 10 percent within three years. By cutting back on usage, emissions and discharges would fall by a similar amount, Dempsey said.

“By reducing our energy consumption, we hope to reduce our environmental footprint,” he said.

Other strategies discussed included making buildings more energy efficient, by revamping existing structures or constructing new buildings with conservation in mind.

“If buildings aren’t designed properly, they can become energy hogs,” said Bob Romo, program officer for the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, which provided a grant to the University to purchase solar panels for the new College of Business building. The building will be located at the corner of Sixth Street and Gregory Drive and is scheduled to begin construction in February or March.

Attendees at the conference also expressed concerns over deregulation in the energy industry in Illinois, saying that uncertainty in the future of energy costs makes budgeting difficult.

When universities operate on fixed incomes, fluctuations in fuel costs can squeeze their budgets, said Charles G. Darnell, director of Western Illinois University’s Physical Plant. Darnell said they needed assistance from capital funds and legislation to solve energy related costs.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) arranged the meeting to encourage more information sharing between the state universities.

“This is the first time we hosted this kind of a conference to bring all them together,” Jakobsson said. “I was pleased with the turnout and communication and information sharing between the energy managers of the universities.”

Jakobsson chairs the House Energy Management Sub-Committee and co-sponsored legislation that commissioned a report on energy conservation measures in public universities from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.