Mpls, U seek to save cash through energy efficiency

Tough economic times are forcing local governments and institutions to cut costs in any way they can, and many are looking toward energy efficiency to save some cash. The City of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota are currently involved in projects aimed at cutting energy costs as a way to save money and improve the environment.

The University

Last fall, the UniversityâÄôs energy management department set a goal to reduce total energy consumption 5 percent by the end of 2010. However, this goal wasnâÄôt directly driven by the economy, Jim Green, assistant director of energy management at the University, said. âÄúInitially, there wasnâÄôt a lot of fiscal pressure to set the goal, it was more an idea of sustainability,âÄù he said. But when Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced the statesâÄô budget shortfall, energy conservation turned into an important cost-saving effort for the University, Green said. Projects include making sure new building projects are constructed with energy efficiency in mind, and doing building check-ups to optimize current systems. The Williams Arena and Sports Pavilion HVAC Control System is in the process of getting updated with new technology, which could save the University more than $170,000 in annual energy costs. Smaller projects are in progress as well, Green said. A project in the Mayo Memorial Building recently replaced 230 exit sign incandescent light bulbs with light-emitting diodes. The project cost just under $6,200 to implement, but promises an annual savings of $7,500, Green said. LED lights use fewer watts of energy and last longer than normal light bulbs. âÄúThe beauty with energy conservation is that it aligns with all of the various initiatives, whether its carbon reduction or sustainability,âÄù Green said. Kristen Hofflander, a senior finance student and the treasurer of the Active Energy Club on campus, said the University has its heart in the right place, but doesnâÄôt have the resources now to implement a lot of energy saving projects. âÄúI truly believe that morally and policy wise they are on board, but it all comes down to economics for the University,âÄù Hofflander said. âÄúThey are going to try and get all of the low hanging fruit that they can before they can do anything major.âÄù

City efforts

In an effort to save energy costs, the City of Minneapolis began piloting a program at the end of last year using LED lights in the streetlamps along Washington Avenue. Streetlamps make up 40 percent of Minneapolis’s energy bill, Second Ward Councilmember Cam Gordon said, and reducing this could result in significant savings. If the pilot program is successful, LED lights could be placed in all streetlamps in Minneapolis, he said. However, the city needs to consider the cost of transitioning to LED lights citywide, Gordon said, or if lights should be switched only in replacements and new streetlamps. New lights are also being considered for Second Street and Marquette Avenue downtown. These lights would work on a dimmer system. âÄúWith downtown, a lot of the lights are needed to keep the area bright and attract visitors to the area,âÄù Gordon said. âÄúBut at a certain point at night, such as two or three in the morning, the lights could be dimmed to save energy.âÄù Although a lot of environmental and energy saving initiatives cost more money going in, Gordon says the payback in the long run is well worth it. âÄúNot only are you saving energy costs, but you are protecting our natural environment,âÄù Gordon said.