“Remember to turn the lights out before you leave”–The famous phrase that Mom and Dad used to say has gained new urgency in recent months and Eastern Washington University holds no exception to this rule. In fact, the phrase is plastered above bathroom light switches all across campus–in bathrooms, classrooms, offices and conference rooms alike.
Due to rising power costs in the Northwest, Eastern has projected it will be almost a million dollars over its utility budget for the period between 1999 and 2001, said Mike Irish, associate vice president for facilities and planning. If current energy trends continue, the university will be over its energy budget by $1.5 million by the end of the next biennium, or two-year period.
The cost of natural gas increased by 1866 percent between December 1998 and December 2000, according to information provided by IGI Resources, Eastern’s power supplier. Irish said this is spike and that prices are supposed to come down some.
“I get printouts from energy watchdog organizations and they say costs will come down a little bit, but not much,” said Irish, who is anticipating the worst.
The situation is so serious that Governor Gary Locke sent out an energy conservation directive ordering all state institutions to take all precautions possible to conserve power.
Eastern actually began preparing for the energy crisis in prior to Governor Locke’s directive when they sent out a campus-wide energy emergency alert directing staff and faculty to take measures in conservation.
“W actually saw this cloud on the horizon back in August, but it came on much faster than we anticipated,” said Irish.
Requested conservation measures include turning off computers at night and when they will not be used for extended periods, refraining from the use of portable or space heaters, not cracking open doors or windows to regulate room temp and turning off lights when they are not being used. Members of the campus community are even encouraged to go so far as to turn out lights in offices that can be sufficiently lit by exterior light from windows. People are also encouraged to report any occurrences of overheated rooms, leaky faucets, and broken or damaged heaters and thermostats. The community is even asked to report incidences of unnecessary lights being left on.
“We are going to be going into serious conservation mode. The biggest conservation effort is going to have to be on the part of the campus community. We are going to have to start turning lights off when we are not using them, turning computers off and thermostats down. It all helps,” said Irish.
In addition to asking staff, faculty, and students for help Eastern has also taken other measures. Irish said the custodial shifts have been moved from nighttime to during the day when the buildings are already occupied.
“This way we can drop temperatures at night and fewer lights are used,” said Irish.
All campus buildings are now programmed to shut down heating systems an hour after everyone is expected to leave and to turn them back on an hour before people are supposed to arrive. This means buildings may be colder than usual in the early morning hours.
In addition to maximizing building performance and regulating energy use, Eastern has also stepped down its natural gas usage, said Ron Hess, assistant director of Eastern’s plant operations.
In the face of skyrocketing natural gas prices, EWU is using number 6 fuel, which is a material similar to that of road tar. The fuel is heated to 226 degrees for use.
“Right now the price of oil is considerably less than that of natural gas,” said Hess. “Eastern is burning 6,000 to 8,000 gallons of number 6 fuel a day. The last time we burned this much fuel was 1976 during the last energy crisis.”
Hess said Eastern is making a couple of long term plans to take effect next year. They are remodeling the campus energy plant to include an additional larger fuel tank and they are going to switch to using a combination of natural gas and number 2 fuel or diesel oil.
Irish said he sees this crisis as one of the worst Eastern has faced in a long time.
“On the upside, my energy management people say there are savings to be had and they are going through the buildings as we speak and are maximizing our ability to conserve. Everybody has been very cooperative. There has been no complaining and lots of good suggestions.”