State bill aids colleges in conserving energy

By Matthew Richardson

A bill passed on Jan. 1 in the Illinois state legislature will allow the University and other colleges throughout the state to build energy efficient buildings and systems more easily.

Senate Bill 1827, a bipartisan effort that passed unanimously, encourages universities to save money by building energy-efficient buildings. Colleges in Illinois currently use a tool called Guaranteed Energy Savings Contract to borrow money that they must put toward new energy-efficient buildings and systems. The Savings Contract requires that each institution must repay the borrowed money in a certain number of years, but the repayment is funded by savings in energy bills.

Senate Bill 1827 doubled the amount of time colleges will have to pay back that money from 10 years to 20.

“The impact is absolutely huge,” said Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Ill. “We’ve doubled the size of an energy investment contract that a university could undertake.”

Because colleges and universities are so large, they are often some of the biggest users of energy in the state. This means that encouraging energy-efficient systems could potentially reduce fossil fuel consumption, in turn making colleges and universities more environmentally friendly.

This also means that universities that are spending less money on energy will require less tax dollars to operate.

“Let’s say you’re gonna do a project that would save $400,000 a year, but maybe it would only cost you $200,000 out of savings to put it on, well that’s a net savings of $200,000 off the bat,” Rose said. “But once the contract is paid back, there’s a huge net savings from that point on, that’s great for the tax payer, that’s great for the environment.”

Eastern Illinois University has used the Savings Contract extensively. It was named the most energy-efficient university in the state, and plans to build a coal plant in the future.

On the other hand, the University of Illinois has no such plans, but the law could serve to facilitate renovations in the University’s older buildings, such as Lincoln Hall, making those buildings more cost-efficient.

“There were a number of things done there in terms of energy savings to bring (Lincoln Hall) up to compliance and current standards,” said Terrance McLennand, director for state relations. “And allow some greater savings (because) it’s spaced out over 20 years instead of a 10-year time frame.”