Colleges find millions in savings from going green

As state funding lags across the nation, community colleges have turned to sustainable energy solutions to cut the cost of power, Ellie Ashford writes for Community College Daily

Over the past few years, colleges have been hit with a perfect storm of financial challenges: enrollment, tuition revenue, and state funding have all declined. As a result, colleges have been looking for ways to save money and have found that saving energy through sustainable solutions was one way to do it. 

How to make your sustainability efforts more… sustainable

The ideas include changing the way energy is consumed and how campus facilities are used. Here are three examples:

Mt. Hood Community College started a competition between campus offices to see who would use the least electricity during the course of a month. The business office won, and received a trophy and a pizza party as a reward. The college also partnered with an outside company that helped install solar panels and LED lighting, as well as upgrade boilers and chillers. With these and other green upgrades, the college cut its annual electrical bill by $750,000.

Monroe Community College installed automation systems so that air-conditioning and heating are not on full blast during evenings and weekends. The school also uses a co-generation plant on its main campus to general electricity and heat through natural gas. The plant is programmed to adjust to the volatility of gas prices to ensure the college is being as cost-effective as possible. The college's green energy strategy helped it reduce energy bills by more than 23% from 2011 to 2016.

Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) has built solar arrays over parking garages at several campuses with the help of state funding for clean energy projects. The solar arrays have helped the district save about $7 million, officials say. The district also upgraded heating and cooling systems and installed LED light bulbs. In the future, leaders at LACCD are interested in installing commercial batteries to preserve solar energy. 

Other schools looking to either find savings or avoid costs by going green should consider it a long-term investment, according to institutions that have gone green.

"Making the time to do this work is very difficult because colleges are stretched, and the results aren't seen right away," says Shelley Temple Kneuvean, vice chancellor for financial and administrative services at Metropolitan Community College, adding, "But it's well worth it in the long term" (Ashford, Community College Daily, 5/5).

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