For universities across the Midwest energy costs are becoming a huge expense. Schools are increasingly reliant on technology and many are adding new research facilities. With that growth has come an increased demand for electricity, and at a number of schools around the region, aging power plants can’t keep up with that demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports on this growing problem:
For universities across the Midwest, energy costs are becoming a huge expense. Schools are increasingly reliant on technology and many are adding new research facilities. With that growth, has come an increased demand for electricity. And at a number of schools around the region, aging power plants can’t keep up with that demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports on this growing problem:
Jeff Bazzi is a freshman at Michigan State University. He shares a dorm room on campus with three other students. They use a lot of electricity.
(Natural sound up/under — computer, fan, radio, TV)
In this one dorm room, there are four computers, two stereos, two televisions, three refrigerators, three fans, one microwave and four alarm clocks. Jeff Bazzi says even though he doesn’t get an electricity bill from the university every month, he’s aware of the amount of energy he uses.
“I know if I was at home my mom would yell at me for wasting electricity, running her bill up. So I still try to conserve. I don’t leave lights on around me and leave the TV on and all that, I try to conserve.”
that’s exactly what the university wants Bazzi and other students, faculty and staff to do…conserve. Last year, Michigan State launched an energy conservation campaign to promote ways to reduce electricity consumption. University officials say small changes on everyone’s part, such as turning off lights and computers, can collectively result in lower energy costs. Terry Link is the director of MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability. He says just a five-percent reduction in electricity demand could save the university one million dollars a year.
“What we need to do is create that environment so that people become more aware that what they’re doing has an effect, it has a cost. It’s not immediate to their wallet, but it has other kinds of costs. And then to give them tools, examples, of how, if they feel they should do something to reduce that, what they can do.”
University officials say energy conservation is especially important now, as MSU struggles with a much tighter budget this year. Also, saving energy could delay a much larger problem. In the not-too-distant future, Michigan State’s power will no longer be able to provide enough electricity for campus. Bob Ellerhorst is the power plant director.
“Our universities are really becoming research-oriented, supported by a lot of high technology stuff. All of it takes electricity, a lot of it requires supplemental air conditioning.”
(Power plant sound up/under)
Michigan State’s power plant can make 55 megawatts of electricity, and during the hottest days of the summer, the campus uses all 55 megawatts. Over the next 15 years, MSU officials project the school will need at least 20 more megawatts of power. Schools throughout the Midwest are facing similar situations, as the demand for power on campus becomes too great for their aging power plants. Many are expanding their plants to meet demand. The University of Illinois is spending 60-million dollars on two new gas-fired turbines, Minnesota’s expansion will cost a-hundred-million dollars and the University of Wisconsin is building a brand-new power plant at a cost of 200-million dollars. Some schools, including Michigan State, are also considering buying more power from their local utility companies. But MSU power plant director Bob Ellerhorst says that electricity is almost twice as expensive as power produced on campus and isn’t nearly as reliable.
“Campus didn’t have a single outage, we had a lot of equipment failures in the plant that we just deal with. The campus has not had an interruption to service in over 36 months. I think that’s a lot longer than you’ve had to reset your clock at home.”
Michigan State is also looking into whether alternative sources of energy, such as wind and fuel cells, could play a part in a long-term solution. But in the meantime, they’re hoping students and faculty will begin conserving energy to help reduce demand and cost.
(Sounds of dorm up/under)
But that could be a challenge, from the looks of things at dorms and buildings on college campuses throughout the Midwest…where more electricity is being used than ever before.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.