During Tight Budget Year, Colorado State University Saves Millions with Energy Conservation Programs

Colorado State University’s energy conservation program has saved the institution more than $28 million by reducing energy use over the past 15 years, a savings that will help the university as it deals with state budgets cuts this year.

The program, which began in the late 1980s and has won notice from the federal government, has saved the university more than $4 million in the past two years alone by avoiding utility costs.

Projects to reduce utility use on campus over the past decade and a half include:

  • campuswide lighting retrofits;
  • building heating and cooling system retrofits, including control system retrofits;
  • fume hood controls;
  • replaced steam absorption cooling;
  • district heating plant boiler replacement and new controls for entire plant;
  • contract purchase of natural gas;
  • building insulation; and
  • storm windows.

Colorado State started the "Green is Gold" campaign on campus last year by setting back thermostats in classrooms to 68-70 degrees and activating "sleep modes" on university computers when they were not in use. The result of the campaign was a $53,000 savings.

The State Office of Energy Management and Conservation has supplied technical assistance to Colorado State this year to identify new projects that will be implemented over the next few years to avoid utility costs, leading to an expected savings of about $1 million per year.

"Our first priority is to eliminate energy waste," said Brian Chase, director of Facilities Management at Colorado State. "We’ve been active in our conservation efforts for years, so there aren’t a lot of quick fixes left out there. Most of what we’ll be doing in the future will require an investment to gain meaningful savings."

This year, Colorado State opened the first three sustainable classrooms on campus in the Department of Manufacturing Technology and Construction Management. Students majoring in construction management were integral in helping to develop environmentally beneficial characteristics in the design of the classrooms. To pass sustainable requirements, products used in the construction of the classrooms were recycled, recyclable, durable, low in potentially toxic substances, low in energy use and regionally manufactured. Increased use of natural lighting, natural ventilation and a solar-assisted exhaust fan are among the environmentally friendly features in the new, smart classrooms.

"The energy projects we’re planning will have a five- to eight-year payback," said Chase. "For example, that means a light retrofit will save enough energy to pay for itself in five years. Every year after, there would be a reduction in operation costs because the cost of the retrofit has been paid off."

Colorado State’s Department of Housing recently completed a renovation of the University Village apartment complex, upgrading all 200 units with low-flow faucets, water-reducing showerheads and low-flow toilets. Bathrooms in several of the residence halls also have been upgraded with water-conserving faucets and showers, saving millions of gallons of water annually.

"In addition to our current water conservation program, all new buildings on campus are required to install low-flow water fixtures," said John Morris, manager of Facilities Operations. "So the new Chemistry/Biosciences Hall started out as a water-efficient facility from the moment it opened this year."

The university uses about 95 percent untreated water for irrigation, which will increase to 100 percent as soon as a few remaining areas on campus are hooked up to a raw water source. Two residence halls are being fitted with Internet-accessible water and energy meters to enable students to pinpoint the amount of usage and encourage conservation. The meters, part of a pilot project, will be able to be monitored on an hourly or daily basis.