When Searching for Cost-Saving Measures, Colleges Go Green

Community colleges are saving money through a variety of methods of increasing energy efficiency.

There’s no getting around it: community colleges spend a lot of money to power their campuses. In an effort to decrease expenditures, a number of campuses nationwide have turned to increasing energy efficiency. While energy upgrades can be expensive, state and local grants have helped offset the costs for colleges, if not covered them completely. Colleges have also realized substantial energy savings through education and behavior modification. All options have resulted in greener campuses and less power consumption, leaving institutions with more resources to use for other initiatives.

In Kentucky, Ashland Community and Technical College received $75,000 in cash incentives for completing five energy-saving projects from Kentucky Power Company. Kentucky Power’s Commercial Incentive Prescriptive Custom Program provides cash back for completing projects that save energy. The incentives have led to the completion of more than 900 projects resulting in commercial customers earning nearly $2.7 million in incentives from Kentucky Power. Though the program was not targeted specifically to community colleges, Ashland still qualified to participate and benefited from the short-term benefit of cash incentives and long-term benefit of sustained energy savings.

Similarly, Suffolk County Community College received a rebate check for $8,000 after installing energy efficient LED lighting in one of their buildings, which are up to 75% more efficient than fluorescent and incandescent bulbs. In addition to LED lighting, the college has also installed high efficiency HVAC systems and solar panels across the institution’s three campuses. This puts the college’s cumulative income from energy efficiency projects, rebates, and grants at more than $1.6 million, with approximately 50 energy-saving projects completed since 2000. Oakton Community College in Illinois received nearly $50,000 from Commonwealth Edison, their local power utility, for reducing electricity consumption during peak summer hours, resulting in fewer brownouts. While rebates and cash incentives provide an immediate financial incentive to go green, they aren’t the only ways to decrease costs and increase efficiency.

Outside of agreements with local power utility companies, California has created a financial incentive through legislation specifically for community colleges to increase energy efficiency. The California Clean Energy Jobs Act, or Proposition 39, increased funding for energy efficiency projects and training statewide. Of the $456.6 million appropriated for the act in 2017, $49.3 million is set aside for awards to California Community College Districts for energy efficiency and clean energy projects. The Los Angeles Community College District receives between $3 and $4 million per year from the state, which the district has used to upgrade to more efficient HVAC systems and LED lighting.

Even without a local utility partnership or state allocated funding, saving money on energy is still possible. Northwest Florida State College (NFSC) has saved over $2 million in three years by working with Cenergist, a consulting firm that helps clients implement best practices for using energy. Upgrading heating, ventilation, food service equipment, and improving the energy efficiency of auditoriums, classrooms and offices were among the items on the checklist for NFSC. Saving millions of dollars starts with practices as simple as turning off the lights at the end of the day, or unplugging the refrigerator before long periods of inactivity.

Powering the campus to create a functional environment for the college community isn’t optional. However, with the right mix of state policy, local support, and institutional initiative, colleges can go green to benefit students, the surrounding community, and the bottom line.

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ACCT Now is the go-to resource for issues affecting community colleges. In addition to reporting and research, you’ll have access to of-the-moment legislative updates. We’ve also included articles, reports, and research from outside sources that benefit the ACCT community.

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