Utilities budget drops 5 percent for 2009-10

Amid continuing financial insecurity and a renewed push for a more sustainable campus, the comprehensive utility budget for the College fell over the past year from $6.53 million to approximately $6.2 million for the current fiscal year, a 5 percent projected decrease in spending. The comprehensive budget contains funds for electricity, gas, oil, water and sewer services in the coming months, calculated using a ten-year rolling average of past need.

The drop reverses nearly two decades of steady growth in energy expenses for the College. According to Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, the inclusive cost of the utilities budget has increased by an average of 7 percent per annum since the 1990-1991 fiscal year. Boyd cited awareness of consumption and the College’s efforts to lower commodity prices as factors that will decrease this year’s expenditures.

A number of operational changes undertaken during the 2008-2009 academic year – like the decision to power down most academic buildings over the winter break – also contributed to diminishing energy spending this year. Facilities has also created a new position for managing the College’s overall energy usage, currently filled by Don Clark. “We’ve made big strides over the past year, especially with some of our newer, energy-intensive buildings like the Morley Science Center,” Clark said. Another recent efficiency improvement is the retrofitting of existing ventilation systems with occupancy sensors similar to those found on light switches around campus.

Diana Prideaux-Brune, associate vice president for Facilities, described the utilities budgeting process, explaining that Facilities looks at market indicators and historical trends to draw up its spending plan. “This year will be easier as we locked in some of our future energy purchases when prices were relatively low,” Prideaux-Brune said.

The College’s recent move towards longer-term sustainability has also begun to see results. The College now uses natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel, which covers over 90 percent of heating needs for buildings, marking a dramatic shift from the oil-burning units that Facilities has historically used. The College purchases 60 percent of its electricity from TransCanada, a hydroelectric supplier based in the Northeast.

The main heating plant also employs a steam turbine to produce additional electricity from the burning of natural gas, in a process known as co-generation. “It’s actually more efficient for us to buy a slight surplus of fuel in order to create more of our own electricity,” Clark said. He added that the new generator allowed the College to remain under budget last year even during a sharp spike in prices.

Global climate change may actually assist the College’s efforts to cut costs this winter. “Although predictions show this winter to be slightly warmer than last, we also anticipate a warmer spring and summer,” Prideaux-Brune said. According to Prideaux-Brune, the College has also hired a consulting firm to plan more programs to reduce emissions and better evaluate supply and demand. “We’re still looking for new opportunities all the time,” she said.