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July 13, 2001

Energy costs prompt UI to adopt conservation measures

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Just as homeowners across the country are adjusting their thermostats and comfort levels in the face of extraordinary energy costs, the University of Iowa is taking steps to reduce electrical usage and is asking staff, faculty, and students to do their part.

"The university is a major energy user, serving thousands of people every day," says John Amend, director of the university’s facilities services. "We always try to be careful about the energy we use, but higher energy costs have prompted us to look more closely at how we can save energy and to adopt some new strategies."

Some of those strategies are familiar to homeowners: higher thermostat settings in summer, lower in winter, and special settings at night and when no one’s in the house. But because the university is such a big place, with so many specific needs in various areas around campus, accomplishing these changes means involving all the people who work in these spaces.

"It’s not as though there’s one campus thermostat we can set," Amend says. "Every building on campus has to be treated differently. They all were custom built over many years, with a wide variety of heating and cooling plants, with a lot of different maintenance needs. And each building has special areas such as laboratories, clinics, and even greenhouses where temperature stability is critical to the work they do there." Amend says his unit is auditing each building’s energy needs and designing an overall campus energy conservation plan, but it’s the people who work in the buildings who know best what can save energy in their areas.

"We need the faculty and staff and students to be very aware of energy use, and to know that ultimately the cost of the energy they use does come out of our budgets. We need them to work with us to make their buildings more energy efficient," Amend says. He cites an example in physics and astronomy where researchers use a high energy device called a "Q-machine" in their plasma research. The researchers worked with engineers in UI facilities services to time their experiments to coincide with lower energy rates.

"I'm sure there are other instances where our staff and faculty can help us save energy, not just in large ways like this, but in small ways that add up, as well," Amend says. "People get tired of hearing about turning off unneeded lights, but it really does help."

The UI also participates in MidAmerican Energy Corporation’s electrical curtailment program, which limits electrical usage during peak periods. Curtailment -- meaning reduction of electrical power for up to six hours -- can be requested by MidAmerican between June 1 and September 30. In return for this agreement, the University receives a lower electrical rate. The university generates about one third of its electrical energy at its own power plant, but also buys power from MidAmerican.