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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU utilities budget shortfall for academic facilities expected

As the cost of natural gas continues to increase, New Mexico State University expects to pay between $8.4 million and $9.6 million for utilities this fiscal year. Since the current Instruction and General Budget provides $7.6 million for utilities, that means a shortfall ranging from $800,000 to $2 million, said Ben Woods, NMSU vice president for human and physical resources.

get pays for utilities in on-campus buildings and other facilities directly related to the academic mission of the university.

Three years ago, natural gas cost $3 per decatherm, which is equal to one million BTUs or British Thermal Units. A BTU is a standard measurement that denotes the amount of heat energy in fuels as well as the ability of air conditioning systems and appliances to produce cooling or heating.

NMSU paid $6.75 for a decatherm of gas in July and August of this year, but the cost for this fiscal year may go up to an average $8.70 per decatherm because of higher midwinter prices, said Rich MacRorie, NMSU executive director of facilities operations.

Once transportation costs have been added, NMSU may pay more than $13.50 per decatherm this winter, Woods said.

El Paso Natural Gas Co., which supplies gas to NMSU, is seeking a 300 percent increase in the cost of transporting gas through the interstate pipeline. It now charges about 35 cents per decatherm. The Federal Energy Regulation Commission is not expected to rule on the request until Jan. 1, 2006, MacRorie said.

Since 2002, NMSU has been trying to offset the impact of rising natural gas prices through two approaches.

One approach was to adjust temperatures and reduce other utility usage in the evenings and on weekends. That reduced the consumption of natural gas by approximately 29 percent over the past three years. Even with these efforts, NMSU paid 60 percent more for natural gas last fiscal year than in 2001.

The other approach was to find ways to increase funding for utilities on campus. In May 2002, the NMSU Board of Regents allocated $500,000 in new tuition dollars toward the I & G utility budget. Last year, an extra $1.2 million was designated for this purpose. In June 2005, an additional $600,000 was allocated toward the quickly rising cost of purchased utilities for the campus. Also, the cost overrun in 2003 resulted in each college and major administrative unit of NMSU being responsible for paying for part of the shortfall from their operational funds.

A utility task force, led by William McCarthy, associate dean of engineering, has been assembled and charged with directing the university approach to dealing with the rising utility costs. The task force is looking into means to continue controlling demand while exploring options for dealing with cost.

Improving energy efficiency has been a goal of the university for years, MacRorie said.

In the mid-1980s, a chilled water storage system was built. The old chillers were replaced three years ago with more efficient units. Water that is used to cool buildings is chilled at night in a three-million-gallon thermal storage tank. By chilling water when electric rates are lower, the university saves money. Also, the three domestic water wells are run at night to fill a four-million-gallon reservoir, which supplies water the next day so the wells don't have to run during peak hours.

In 1996, a cogeneration system that allows the university to get both electricity and steam from the same source was built. Thirty-five percent of NMSU's peak electrical demand comes from this system. Waste heat that is generated from this process is used to make steam that can be used to cool or heat the campus.

To help reduce utility cost, energy conservation efforts continue at NMSU today in other areas.

The university is immersed in a "lighting retrofit" campaign in which older fluorescent and incandescent lights are removed and replaced by newer, more efficient fluorescent lights.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are being examined. New coils are being added to improve heat transfer performance. Also, air passes more easily through new, clean coils.

Variable speed settings for fans allow the amount of air provided to buildings to be matched to the load. In a constant volume system, fans run at the same volume all the time to be able to meet the most severe load in the buildings. This, MacRorie said, means that 90 percent of the time, more air than needed is circulated. Instead of having fans with simple "on/off" switches, fans with speed variations are much more energy-conscious because if a fan's speed can by slowed down by 10 percent, energy use is cut by one-third.

An extended Thanksgiving holiday break at NMSU this year will help conserve energy. With classrooms closed Monday through Friday, Nov. 21-25, the heating system can be turned down and left off a little longer. This is especially important because the electricity that's saved during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays is worth more than the electricity that's used during non-peak hours, MacRorie said. The base rate for electricity during peak hours is 10 cents per kilowatt-hour plus fuel charges. Electricity during non-peak hours costs 3 ½ cents per kilowatt-hour plus fuel charges.

Adding to the cost of managing the university's energy bill is the high skill level and training needed to maintain the systems, some of which are quite sophisticated, as well as the time necessary to keep the systems in excellent working condition, MacRorie said. He added that these needs must not be overlooked and that good preventive maintenance is still one of the best energy conservation measures available.

"We keep trying to take small bites out of that elephant," MacRorie said, the "elephant" being the cost of utilities and the "small bites" reflecting NMSU's continuing mission to be proactive in its cost-consciousness and thriftiness. While the mission continues, qualified people are needed to run the systems and there is a "significant and ongoing cost associated with that," he said.