Reforms for energy usage

Americans have become undoubtedly aware in the past few years at the ever-rising cost of energy. Gas seems to reach a record-high price every week. Having the air conditioning reset during the sweltering summer heat to spend as little as possible and the push to buy fluorescent light bulbs, provide ample testament for the economically hard times we have fallen upon.

GCSU has certainly felt these effects as well. Last year, the school spent anywhere between $2.21 and $2.56 million on its electricity bill for main and west campus buildings. So far this year, the school has already spent between $1.68 and $1.94 million. These startlingly large numbers beg the question: does our school do everything possible to conserve energy?

The school created a Campus Energy Use & Conservation Task Force headed by Doug Oetter in 2006 to answer this very question. They have had a dramatic effect since then by converting light bulbs in several campus buildings to a more environmentally-friendly type, replacing windows in many of the residence halls, and using an adaptive energy pricing policy, which allows the school to negotiate lower than standard rates. We also have one of the most efficient water cooling plants money can buy.

Kevin Murner, a former associate director at Physical Operations, now works to monitor and mediate all of GCSU’s energy usage. He told me about all of the ways GCSU has worked to keep its two million square feet of both academic and residential space heated and cooled. Future plans include adding monitors for every building to accurately pinpoint specific areas of high energy waste.

Murner believes that GCSU can make further efforts to increase energy efficiency.

“One light bulb left on for a month could end up costing the school anywhere from $20-$45,” Murner said.

The lights for all the classrooms in the Arts & Sciences building, if left on from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a five day academic week, would cost the university $675. A 31-day month would cost nearly $3,000. And that does not even include the hallways or office lights, air conditioning or other appliances.

GCSU students could easily find themselves wondering why they should bother to turn off the lights. After all, they do not have to pay their own energy bill in the residence halls.

“Just because students aren’t paying directly for energy usage doesn’t mean we’re all not paying for it,” Oetter said.

The money spent towards energy usage has to come from somewhere, so if the school pays above-average rates then they will have to cut money back from other important programs and services. The same concept goes for the residential water bills.
Other appliances contribute heavily to the overall energy usage that the university pays for. A typical desktop computer uses between 60-250 watts an hour, which would translate to anywhere between $31 and $186 for a month of continual use on our energy pricing. Refrigerators and space heaters are among the other cost-inefficient appliances common on campus.

Decreasing our future energy bills could happen with relatively little effort on the part of the students and faculty. Monumental changes could happen by simply turning off the lights before leaving the dorm room or class.

“What it really comes down to,” Oetter said, “is someone being willing to flip the switch.”

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