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Sustainability Proposal to Save College $12 Million

By Zoey Erdenebileg

Kenyon will embark on an estimated $6 million effort to increase its energy conservation efforts this year. The comprehensive effort will affect the College’s lighting, water, central steam and heating and air-conditioning systems and save the College an estimated $12 million over the next 20 years. Ed Neal, the College’s director of sustainability, presented the proposal to Gambier’s Village Council on Jan. 9.

Neal, along with Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman, has been planning for the energy overhaul since last year. Their project overview lists six categories wherein the College can increase efficiency. It includes a comprehensive lighting program, a water conservation program, direct digital controls, central steam plant optimization and sub metering to identify how much energy each building consumes. The College will make efforts to modify behavior, including a campus energy policy and a new dashboard system to monitor energy use with Facebook and Twitter updates.

Essential to the project is the improvement of existing fixtures and units such as the current light bulbs and heating and air-conditioning systems. Many older and more inefficient products will be replaced with new, energy-saving ones. For example, the T12 light bulb, present in most light fixtures on campus, will disappear in favor of the T8, a futuristic bulb made of higher-grade phosphorous that allows it to use less energy. Over 11,000 T8 light bulbs will be installed across campus, according to Neal.

The plan also addresses heating and air-conditioning issues. “Mather, McBride, Caples, Manning and Bushnell [Halls] have very little control of the air conditioning and the heat,” Neal said. “With this project, we’re actually going to install thermostats that will modulate the blowers. That’s going to help them a lot, and it’s going to help us out because we’ll be more efficient and not blast heat or overcool the spaces when nobody needs it, but it’s so hard to control those units right now. And we find a lot of students temper the space by just opening the windows. They have a total lack of control and this will actually give them some set point on a thermostat.”

The total budget estimate is over $6 million, but “the College ends up not paying anything for the project because the project pays for itself out of the reduction of what we would be paying for utilities,” Neal said. An in-house campus energy performance assessment and an audit by Ameresco Inc., an energy service company, determined that the College would save about 30 percent annually on the energy budget. This figure indicates that the College could save roughly $600,000 per year and about $12 million over the 20-year lifespan of the project.

In addition to the budget savings, the program will dramatically shrink the College’s carbon footprint. It will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10,785 metric tons, the equivalent of burning 1,209,081 gallons of gasoline, according to the Energy Performance Proposal by Ameresco.

“So many of these projects are doing that, where we’re improving the lighting and we’re reducing the amount that we’re paying. There are savings there that no one will have to sacrifice for us to obtain,” Neal said. “When you look at this project as a whole, it seems to be the right thing to do.”

Neal also brought up the project’s educational component. Dashboards that display information about each building’s energy usage will be available online, on computer lab screen savers and on mobile kiosks. The purpose of the dashboards, Neal said, is to track the College’s improvements. “This project won’t be effective unless we can actually measure the outcome, and this will give us a means to measure that outcome, to make sure we’re actually offsetting what we said we were going to offset,” Neal said. Moreover, he hopes that through the dashboard system, students will gain awareness of their individual carbon footprints.

The College will take 12 to 15 months to complete the project in parts. The first portion will begin this February.

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