University may change utilities funding

By Masha Stul

The Illinois Student Senate will vote Wednesday night on a new billing system which is part of Facilities and Services’ larger strategy to cut University utility costs.

Under the proposed billing system, the University would allocate utilities funding to each college, and each college would be allowed to keep whatever money it saved, said Suhail Barot, graduate student and chair of the Student Sustainability Committee.

Daniel Weber, sophomore in LAS, student senator and sustainability representative, said such a resolution from the official voice of the student body will help push the implementation of this new system against any possible opposition.

“(The new billing system) will create incentive for different colleges to reduce energy consumption,” he added.

For the past 30 years, the University managed utility and energy funds at the system level instead of bestowing each college with the responsibility for its spending, said Terry Ruprecht, director of energy conservation. This sank the campus into the current $90 million facilities deficit, he said.

“The huge and growing expenditures for energy on diverse research campuses were invisible to the very people who used the energy,” Ruprecht said in a letter to the Student Senate on Dec. 2. “The organizational separation of authority and responsibility for energy use has been a major factor in leading the Urbana campus to (be the) third highest electricity user in the Big Ten in 2007, on a per-square-foot basis.”

The University will be buying the same software that is used at the University of Michigan, where the system of colleges paying their own utility bills has already shown excellent results, Ruprecht said.

“Right now the estimate is that the total cost is $350,000,” he added.

Ruprecht said the new billing system is one piece of the strategy to achieve a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2010, and another 15 percent reduction by 2017. Another piece of that strategy has been a Facilities and Services program focusing on energy spending of individual buildings.

“We put a small team of experts in building energy use and they spend four to six weeks going through a building and finding all the places where energy is wasted,” he said. “They have now completed seven or eight buildings, and the average reduction in energy usage in the buildings they’ve completed is 29 percent.”

He said as of fiscal year 2008, a 3.5 percent reduction in energy usage has been achieved, measuring up to the projected goals.

Ruprecht said the new billing system will likely be operational by July 1, the beginning of a new fiscal year.

In a mass e-mail sent last semester, University Chancellor Richard Herman cited the utility bill as one of the campus’ top three expenses.

“People have to have some skin in the game if you expect them to help in the conservation process,” Ruprecht said.