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UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson and Troy Goodnough, sustainability coordinator (right).

Taking the Campus Wars Pledge: Rene Maes (center) from the UMM chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group swearing in UMM chancellor Jacquie Johnson and campus sustainability coordinator Troy Goodnough in early February.

Pulling the plug on excessive energy use

Campus Energy Wars raises awareness of energy savings among U community

By Pauline Oo

Feb. 16, 2007

The University of Minnesota, Morris, is currently "at war." So are 13 other schools in Minnesota, including Macalester College, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus College and Minnesota State University at Mankato. Each is looking to come out tops in the 2007 Campus Energy Wars. The challenge: to reduce heat and electricity usage this month.

Thus far, "things are going well" in Morris, reports Troy Goodnough, Morris campus sustainability coordinator.

The energy-savings initiative kicked off with pledge week (several hundred people have since taken the Campus Wars Pledge and received "war" awareness buttons; see sidebar); energy-savings posters and flyers have popped up all over campus; there was a free screening of An Inconvenient Truth, former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming's deadly progress and the myths and misconceptions that surround it; recycled Valentines made the rounds on Feb. 14; more faculty-expert lectures, complete with question-and-answer sessions, on biodiversity and global warming are on tap; and energy-efficient, compact florescent lights will soon be handed out to the student body.

"February is a busy and fun month for sustainability," says Goodnough. "We're trying to win [the competition], but more importantly, we're bringing about awareness in the community."

At the University of Minnesota, the simplest energy conservation measures--such as switching off an office lamp at the end of the day--could save the U millions of dollars in energy costs annually. The University has more than 800 buildings across the state (or the same amount of space as 17,000 average homes), and approximately one third of its power usage is under discretionary control of the building occupants.

"If every light on the campus was shut off one additional hour a day, we could save over $500,000 a year," says Mary Santori, assistant director of Energy Management, a unit within the U's Facilities Management on the Twin Cities campus.

The Campus Energy Wars originated at Macalester College, a small liberal arts college in St. Paul. Last year, the contest was held between the residence halls of Macalester and the U's Twin Cities and Duluth campuses. Most residence halls recorded about 6 percent savings in electricity consumption, while the winning Macalester hall saved 27 percent. This time around, the Minnesota College Energy Coalition at Macalester and members of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) decided to expand the effort across the state. (This year, only the residence halls on the U's Twin Cities and Duluth campuses are involved.)

Take the pledge!
UMM's Campus Wars pledge encourages students, faculty and staff to:

* Turn off the lights in an unoccupied room.

* Shorten the length of showers.

* Remain aware of water usage in general.

* Unplug appliances when not in use.

Save energy--What more can you do?
In addition to the suggestions above, here's what you can do to save energy and money:

* Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer.

* Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.

* Air-dry dishes instead of using your dishwasher's drying cycle.

* Turn off your computer and monitor when not in use.

* Plug home electronics, such as TVs and DVD players, into power strips; turn the power strips off when the equipment is not in use.

* Drive sensibly. Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gasoline.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Participating schools will be judged on the total energy consumption in two categories, heating and electricity, measured as a percent reduction from the campuses' previous three-year average (February 2004, 2005 and 2006).

"Things are complicated this year because we are suffering from one of the coldest months in a long time," says Goodnough. "I think all students in the competition, and especially those of us suffering the biting cold of the prairie, are going to find their energy up compared to previous years."

Goodnough is serving as the liaison between UMM's Plant Services staff and the MPIRG members on campus, and by month's end, will help both groups calculate how much energy (in kilowatt hours and British thermal units) and University money they've helped to save.

"What everybody is finding out, especially our students, is that collecting and interpreting the data is not easy," says Goodnough. "Meters break, weather changes... the first two weeks [of this competition] have been about figuring out what the data looks like."

In 2005, UMM became the first public college to install a large-scale wind turbine on its campus. The windmill generates 1.65 megawatts of power, equivalent to about half of the campus's electricity needs. And when UMM's biomass gasification demonstration and research facility is completed, it will provide more than 80 percent of the Morris campus's heating and cooling needs. The facility is designed to burn a wide variety of biomass including corn stalks and small grain straw.

"Students are driving this [current energy-savings project], and they are providing an impetus for us to dig even deeper, to find more ways to save energy on our campus," says Goodnough. "The UMM goal is to be energy self-sufficient by 2010. We want to use as much wind as possible for energy and greatly reduce fossil fuel use with biomass." Renewable energy is one engine that has been powering the University's drive to transform itself into one of the world's top three public research universities. The University has been focused on energy conservation efforts for decades, and since 1994 it has actually decreased overall consumption. Specific energy conservation efforts have included: retrofitting the majority of the incandescent and other inefficient lighting systems on campus to fluorescent and other more efficient lighting systems, installing Direct Digital Control equipment for better heating and cooling control, scheduling equipment to turn off when a space is not in use and testing and replacing faulty steam traps.

To learn more about energy-saving or sustainable projects at the U, see Sustainability and U.

Further reading Looking for energy answers

Natural prairie holds key to sustainable fuels

UMM receives federal funding for biomass development