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Last December, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued Executive Order 25 directing all state agencies and departments to reduce their energy consumption by 30% from 2005 levels by 2015. If fully enacted, the energy savings will save taxpayers an estimated $5.4 million in utility expenses.
To see how facility directors around the state are implementing the order, The Green Register interviewed Athens State University’s Coordinator of Campus Facility Usage and Physical Plant Support Larry Keenum. Athens State University, founded in 1822, is the oldest institution of higher education in the state.
Were you surprised by the issuance of Executive Order 25, and how do you feel about it?
Reducing energy costs has been going on since the first Momma said, “Were you raised in a barn? Shut that door behind you.” Most of us just need a hard and fast number to meet in order to reach a goal that is good for us. Governor Bentley’s order gave us the number. It’s been easy when you work for someone else to turn up the thermostat when you were cold because someone else was paying the bill. Governor Bentley’s Order has reminded all of us that public money is really money from our pocket.
How did you prepare to implement the order at Athens State University? Appoint a committee? Assign a “Czar”?
Athens State has been in the business of conserving for a long time. Our energy costs-per-square-foot has been going down a good while. Our Physical Plant personnel are always looking for ways to save, whether it be with new products or new procedures. When the order came down, a definitive plan was put into place to reach the number.
Will your “critical path” be compliant with the allotted time period?
Yes, we are at -18% from the 2005 numbers before the Governor’s order. We have improved on that. However, all of the “easy stuff” has already been done.
What areas of potential efficiency have you identified and what goals have you set?
Some of the quick ROI (return on investment) we found were window caulking, door sealing, turn off lights and appliances when not in use, put your sweater on when you are cold and wear short sleeves when you are hot. The Maintenance staff replaces light bulbs with more efficient ones when they burn out, clean the HVAC units on a regular schedule, and new construction makes use of more efficient practices and equipment. The goal the entire energy savings world has is – get rid of those space heaters under the desk.
How have the Athens faculty and student body responded to the announcement, and are they supporting your initiatives?
When we first notified the staff and faculty of this effort we got several good suggestions and reports of open windows, window needs caulking, etc. Support is strong campus-wide. The Governor is not asking anyone to do anything they don’t know they should be doing anyway.
Other than the obvious cost savings, what other benefits are you discovering as new technologies and advancements?
Our Physical Plant personnel have always been in the know about new technologies and advancements. The question has always been, “Can we afford this? Is it worth it?” Meeting the demands of this order has allowed them to incorporate some of these advancements and technologies throughout the campus as the ROI factor is now more important than the initial costs. Now the thought is, “Will this pay for itself in two years?”
Since you have worked in facilities during your career, what improvements have you seen that make your job easier and more efficient? i.e. Are you using any auto sensors and EPP timed mechanisms?
Technology always makes the job easier in some ways. Most technological advancements are just ways to help lazy people remember to do right. Motion and time sensors turn on and off lights and appliances, toilets self flush, your truck tells you it’s about out of fuel. The trouble with technology is that you have to be smart enough to use it and it’s usually expensive in the beginning. You don’t want to spend $100 today to save $5 next year, but you may consider spending $100 today to save $300 over five years. What we have found is that there “are lots of savings opportunities out there without having to invest in cutting-edge technology across the board.” You have to have the attitude, “This is my money I’m saving, not someone else’s.”
The greatest useable advancements are the efficiency of modern machinery. Many times just replacing an inefficient, almost wore-out machine with a new highly efficient one will show a positive ROI in a very short time.
What advice do you have for other Alabama university facilities staff members that are striving to accomplish Executive Order 25?
Do what you know to do first, shut the doors, turn off the lights, etc. Make sure construction is done properly – is the insulation installed correctly, are the windows double pane?, etc. As you are replacing lights and machinery, spend a little more up front and get highly efficient ones, and most importantly, know what is going on on your campus. Track the energy usage. When you see a number that doesn’t look right, investigate it, and remedy the problem. Also, team up with organizations that know how to find the energy savings. At Athens State, we recently partnered with The Institute of Sustainability (TIOS) based in Birmingham to go through their green certification program.
- This interview was conducted by The Green Register.