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Sustainability and good stewardship bring the University of Idaho a whopping return on investment, and the promise of more.
Light Bulb
Installing high efficiency lighting systems in 40 campus buildings has earned the University of Idaho an Avista energy efficiency incentive check for more than $438,000.

The new lighting in the Buchanan Engineering Labs, Administration Building, Student Union Building, Commons and other campus buildings will reduce the University’s energy costs by approximately $147,000 a year and save more than 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity – enough energy to power about 230 homes for a year. The University expects to receive approximately $1 million in rebates from Avista by the time all Energy Services Company (ESCO) projects are complete in fall 2011.

Avista offers the tariff-based programs because it costs less to help customers reduce their usage through efficiency programs than to acquire additional, more costly energy resources to meet the growing needs of customers.

The efficiency improvements also will enhance lighting quality and reduce maintenance costs.

In 2007, the University bonded approximately $35 million to complete a wide array of projects that would pay back the capital investment with energy savings. One of the first projects – lighting retrofits – replaced magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts and older T-12 style lamps with newer T-8 lamps, substantially increasing energy efficiency and considerably reducing the University’s power consumption.

McKinstry Essention was selected as the University’s Energy Services Performance Contractor (ESPC) in 2006. They conducted a baseline technical audit of lighting and HVAC systems across the Moscow campus. Avista recently completed an onsite audit to confirm the number of lighting fixtures upgraded on the Moscow campus since construction work began in spring 2008. Lighting upgrades are relatively simple to implement and have a very short payback timeline.

Joe Kline, director of University utilities and engineering, heads the ESCO project and believes it is important to the institution on several levels.

“The ESCO contracting process allows the University to reduce its overall energy usage in the short term, which helps meet current budget challenges as well as helping to protect against inevitable future hikes in electricity and natural gas prices,” says Kline.

As part of the ESCO project, covered wood chip storage was built just west of the Facilities Building in summer 2009. The covered storage allows the plant to generate steam with relatively consistent moisture content though the utilization of wood throughout the winter months.

“In past years, wood would often arrive frozen, like giant wood chip snowballs, which reduces efficiency of the wood boiler and causes the steam plant to light a natural gas boiler to make up the difference,” Kline explained. “Generating steam by wood fuel is roughly one-third the cost of generating steam from natural gas here at the University of Idaho.”

Improved energy efficiency and the $438,000 are welcome, particularly in these challenging economic times.

“The University is committed to good stewardship of all of its resources, including energy,” says Lloyd Mues, vice president for finance and administration. “Through strategic efforts – and the assistance of community partners like Avista – we’re pleased to have effective results that benefit not only the University and the taxpayers of our great state, but the environment as well, through reduced energy costs and usage.”

“Making energy efficient upgrades is a smart choice for facilities wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce operating costs,” says Rick Davis, Avista’s account executive working with University. “We congratulate the University on taking this action that will be a benefit for years to come.”

Other facets of the ESCO project are ongoing and include updating heating and cooling automated controls; upgrading motors across campus with variable frequency drives, allowing them to run at lower speeds; and creating additional chilled water infrastructure to improve the efficiency and reliability of cooling across campus. Work is expected to continue through fall 2011.

While crews implement the ESCO project, they also are able to address some deferred maintenance needs, Kline says. For example, Kline notes the ESCO contractor was able to bring dormant heat reclamation systems online at the CNR Building and Renfrew Hall. These systems transfer heat from the buildings’ exhaust and use it to pre-heat incoming air. That reduces the amount of steam heat needed to keep the building comfortable. Initial estimates indicate the University will save $5,000-$10,000 per month in the heating season from this upgrade alone.

The ESCO project promises to continue to payoff big in energy savings and reduced energy bills.

Work is currently underway to upgrade HVAC systems, building control equipment and software in many campus facilities. A 2-million-gallon chilled water storage tank and 1,000 ton chilled water plant are being built near the University golf course. The new plant and tank are scheduled to come online this spring. In addition, a major expansion to the University’s chilled water distribution piping infrastructure is currently being designed. Plans are to begin construction in May. The expansion will provide chilled water infrastructure to the east side of campus and it will run roughly from the Administration Building, around to the School of Music, across to the Student Health Center, then down the hill toward the Engineering/Physics Building.