‘Energy War’ pushes students to conserve

Nearby universities compete to decrease their energy use for a pizza party prize.

Allison Wickler

At the beginning of February, area universities armed themselves for a month-long battle.

But their motives aren’t the least bit dangerous.

Students at Macalester College in St. Paul are challenging the University and 12 other colleges to reduce their heat and electricity usage this month.

Last year, both the University and Macalester held conservation competitions between the residence halls on their own campuses, but members of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and the Minnesota College Energy Coalition at Macalester decided to expand the effort.

Macalester MPIRG member Louise Sharrow said they created a theme for each week to generate interest, and on Feb. 1, student “energy crusaders” donned capes and talked about the competition in classrooms.

But because of the University’s size, the competition on campus will only include residence halls.

Chemical engineering junior Leo Kucek, who leads the University’s MPIRG campus sustainability task force, said it’s more feasible to target students in residence halls than monitor the entire campus.

MPIRG is distributing fliers with energy-saving tips to the halls, which Kucek said will hopefully encourage students to be mindful of electricity use, especially with lights, computers and TVs.

“We’re really hoping for something in the ballpark of 5 to 10 percent (reduction),” he said. “If we saw something that significant, we would be thrilled.”

He said the winning residence hall at the University will receive a free pizza and bowling party.

Timothy Den Herder-Thomas, who helped initiate the campus wars, said most Macalester residence halls during last year’s competition saved about 6 percent electricity, while the winning hall saved 27 percent.

“It gets students thinking about the longer term,” he said of the competition. “The Midwest is one of the best places for (global warming) solutions.”

He said this type of competition also gets institutions more comfortable with taking “concrete action” to improve their energy use.

At the University, facilities management is developing an energy conservation campaign much like the recycling one in place now, said Mary Santori, assistant director of energy efficiency.

“We’re asking people to be conscientious,” she said.

For some students, conserving energy requires extra thought.

Political science first-year student Beatriz Carrillo said she knows energy conservation is a big issue, but she sometimes forgets to think about things like turning off lights.

Architecture sophomore Dan Greuel said although he makes an effort to put his computer in standby mode and turn off unneeded lights, it seems most students are unconcerned with conserving energy.

He said he thought a competition is a good motivator.

“I think it’s a good short-term thing,” he said, “but I’m not sure about long-term – trying to change people.”

Sharrow said they will calculate the results of the whole competition sometime in March, and the school with the greatest percent energy reduction from their base energy use will receive a prize.

“It’s not about the prize or about the winning,” she said. “It’s about the action and saving energy.”