UK plans to save big bucks on energy

Sometime between next summer and fall, people at the University of Kentucky might start noticing disruptions caused by contractors, followed by more efficient lighting and water-saving plumbing fixtures.

The changes will be the result of a $25 million energy savings performance contract approved Tuesday by the school's Board of Trustees.

Bob Wiseman, UK's vice president for facilities management, says he hopes to save 10 to 15 percent on the $50 million annual utility bill.

About $20 million of that bill is for electricity, Wiseman said. UK also hopes to chop off a significant portion of its water bill — and the related sanitary sewer fee — with the new plumbing fixtures.

UK has contracted with Ameresco, a Louisville-based energy service company, to do the work. Under the guidelines of a state law that allows such contracts, the company guarantees that the project will pay for itself in a dozen years. If it doesn't, the company, not the university, is responsible for the difference.

Although that breaking even is guaranteed, Wiseman said, UK stands to see what he calls "real savings" if utility rates increase over the period.

Although people on campus are likely to see lighting changes first, other possible measures include HVAC systems, more efficient motors, repair of pipe insulation and what is called "behavioral modification."

That means teaching people to turn off lights and computer monitors when leaving a room, Wiseman said.

Students will be an important part of that process.

"If we can educate them when they're in our residence halls on energy conservation, it's a real gain the whole four years they're here," he said.

UK already has an aggressive program to cut back on energy use by controlling functions such as heating and cooling from a central location, Wiseman said.

A hall in the Singletary Center, for example, is dark and not heated or cooled when it is not in use.

The $25 million is considered the first phase of the energy saving program, and will take about three years to complete.

Eastern Kentucky University already is working on a similar project, Wiseman said, and Western Kentucky University has a smaller project. The University of Louisville is about where UK is in the process, he said.

Ameresco was chosen from nine or 10 companies that submitted proposals. The winnowing also included a trial audit of 10 buildings. The contract with the company still has to be approved by the state Finance Cabinet.