Education

UK kicks off yearlong, $25 million energy-saving project

More efficient lighting in many campus buildings — although not at the 12-year-old William T. Young Library, above — is part of a $25 million energy  retrofit announced Thursday by the University of Kentucky. Savings generated by the changes are expected to cover the cost after 12 years.
More efficient lighting in many campus buildings — although not at the 12-year-old William T. Young Library, above — is part of a $25 million energy retrofit announced Thursday by the University of Kentucky. Savings generated by the changes are expected to cover the cost after 12 years.

Efficient modern lighting in even the oldest buildings, new pipes that don't leak, more sweaters and fewer space heaters are all part of a yearlong, $25 million energy retrofit of 61 campus buildings announced Thursday at the University of Kentucky.

The project, which gets under way next week, is expected to save $2.4 million a year on the university's utility bills and result in what the school says will be "a dramatically smaller carbon footprint."

"It's good for UK, it's good for the state, it's good for the students, faculty and staff — it's just the right thing to do," UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said during a news conference.

In the first year, the savings will be enough to cover the $2.2 million needed annually to service the bonds sold to pay for the work. The real savings will come, officials said, as the years go by and the cost of flipping a light switch or turning on a faucet rises.

"As utility rates rise ... the dollars will accumulate each year," said Bob Wiseman, UK's vice president for facilities management.

In addition to more efficient lighting, the project includes water conservation, insulation, upgraded boilers, steam system improvements, solar water heating and HVAC system replacements.

There also will be efforts at "behavior modification." Wiseman described that as encouraging people on campus to turn out a light when leaving a room, consolidate several small refrigerators into a large one or wear a sweater at work.

A building-by-building work schedule and progress report may be found at Energysavings.facilities.uky.edu. Anyone with an Internet connection may see the work to be done in each building. UK students, faculty and staff with passwords may see specific schedules, comment on the work and read the comments of others.

People working or studying at UK also will be able to monitor the energy used in their building on the site, Wiseman said.

Todd, whose pre-presidential background was in computers, obviously was impressed.

"I was intrigued and encourage you to look at the Web site," he said. "It's pretty nerdy."

The retrofit program has been two years in the making. A committee started looking at companies to do the work in summer 2008, Wiseman said. It narrowed the list, asked three companies to do audits of a few buildings, and eventually settled on Ameresco, a Louisville-based energy services company that has done work for the state.

The school's board of trustees approved a contract last December, a year and a day before Thursday's announcement.

The university's contract guarantees the annual savings will be enough to pay back the $25 million investment in a dozen years. If that doesn't happen, the company is responsible for the difference.

"We expect certain savings every day, every month, and if we're not meeting that, they'll come in, we'll tweak our buildings and see what's changed," Wiseman said, adding that $15.8 million of the $25 million will be spent on mechanical systems upgrades, with $6 million for lighting, $1.4 million for water conservation and $1.8 million for unexpected problems that might be encountered in old buildings.

The retrofits should be completed by the end of 2011. The work will take place from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. to minimize disruptions on campus.

Todd noted during the news conference that reducing the school's carbon footprint "is a large concern for our students and many of our faculty."

As he was speaking, members of a group called UK Beyond Coal were placing pinwheels along a main sidewalk in a "Winds of Change" effort to urge the university "to move beyond coal and become a clean energy innovation center."

Kyle Beck, a senior business major who was one of the anti-coal organizers, said his group was not aware that the university was announcing the retrofit project Thursday.

He said "it's nice to see that the administration has been showing signs of energy conservation," but his group still wants an eventual break with any coal use on campus.

The largest portion of the school's carbon footprint is the coal-produced electricity it buys from Kentucky Utilities, Wiseman said. The school also burns coal for boilers that heat buildings.

The retrofit program will reduce the amount of electricity UK uses, but in response to a reporter's question about whether the school could stop burning coal, Wiseman said "I don't see that any time soon."

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