Herald-Leader Editorial

UK, EKU show how Ky. can tap a gold mine of energy savings

Campuses grab efficiency dividends

November 30, 2012 

Imagine Black Friday at a store that was offering to save people 30 percent on their utilities forever. Customers would stretch to the county line, and beyond.

Now, two state universities have shown this can happen, and it doesn't have to be a once-in-a-lifetime offer.

A little background, first.

Decades of low energy prices have earned our state the dubious distinction of being one of the most inefficient in the nation, ranking seventh in per capita energy consumption.

This is not only an environmental problem, it's an economic problem in our poor state. We can't afford to throw away energy.

The University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University have both engaged outside contractors to overhaul their utility systems. They used different contractors but the deals were essentially the same: the millions it took to retrofit the campuses would be paid for out of utility savings and what's left over returns to the school.

EKU began its effort in 2008, contracting Siemens Building Technologies to undertake $22 million of utility efficiency improvements on campus with a goal of saving 30 percent or more of the school's annual $6.5 million in utility bills. Under the deal, if the savings didn't pay for the improvements within 12 years Siemens would make up the difference. Now, with all the work done, the project is meeting its goal, EKU spokesman Marc Whitt says, saving $7,900 per day or $2.89 million a year.

UK just last week said that it's seeing similar returns on a $25 million effort it began in 2009 with contractor Ameresco. Three years out, UK is saving $2.4 million a year, enough to meet the $2.2 million annual payment on the bonds to finance the project, with money left over to invest in other energy saving projects.

Of course, for both schools the savings won't end when the initial cost has been recovered. They'll continue, to be reinvested in further efficiencies or elsewhere. There's also the impact on the environment to consider. UK figures that it's cut its carbon dioxide output by 23,291 tons a year, the equivalent of taking 45,755 cars off the road.

Some of the improvements were big and expensive, like replacing heating and air conditioning systems, but many were the ordinary commonsense changes we hear about every day: replacing inefficient incandescent light bulbs, improving insulation, turning out lights when no one's in a room.

The universities have shown the way, proving that investments in efficiency will quickly pay significant dividends, for the people who pay utility bills and the environment. This is a message that could, and should, transform Kentucky.

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