Alice Jones, director of sustainability, said the area where the pedestrian gateway will be constructed is an excellent spot for geothermal drilling on campus. TYLER PHILLIPS/PROGRESS

Alice Jones, director of sustainability, said the area where the pedestrian gateway will be constructed is an excellent spot for geothermal drilling on campus. TYLER PHILLIPS/PROGRESS

By TYLER PHILLIPS
progress@eku.edu

For the last seven years or so, Eastern has quietly improved its energy efficiency – to the tune of more than $2 million in savings.

Flying under the radar of the majority of Eastern students has been a contract to improve buildings’ energy efficiency, the overall effectiveness of New Hall and the New Science Building and a plan set in place this year for the next 10 years.

All three aspects have an impact on the future of Eastern and will shape the way the campus operates for the next ten years.

Siemens and savings

To counter issues with historic buildings, Eastern took a leap of faith in the early 2000s. 

In 2008, retrofits – a component or accessory added to something that was not originally manufactured – were completed to make Eastern as energy efficient as possible.

The performance contract was with Siemens Building Technologies, Inc. that expected to save them $7,000 to $8,000 a day in energy costs.  That deal held up according to its standards, said Barry Poynter, vice president for finance and administration.

“We do monitor that and look at that all the time,” Poynter said. “We have measured that for two years now and I have reported to the board about those results.”

The deal was the first major performance contract in the state of Kentucky.

The $26 million deal was designed to benefit both parties.  The debt that Eastern owes to Siemens for the deal is “guaranteed to pay off” through the money saved, or Siemens will write Eastern a check for the difference when the 13-year deal ends in 2020-2021.

Costs are far less than what it could have been though, said Alice Jones, director of sustainability. Eastern chose to repair instead of replace the steam pipes because of the cost.

“We told them not to, because it was going to be incredibly expensive,” Jones said. “So that project ended up being $26 million anyway, but would’ve been closer to $50 million if we had done the steam pipes.”

Poynter said the university has saved more than $2 million the past two years because of the retrofits.

“The thinking is you are going to save enough through those retrofits that will save enough to pay for those retrofits,” Poynter said.  “We are on par, doing well and saving more than we guaranteed if we had not done anything.”

The new buildings

New buildings are coming soon.  A new wellness center and three residence halls will be added in the coming years, along with a renovation to the student union.

But with new buildings comes more square footage.  More square footage means another place to heat, cool and power, which means adding on to the $8.3 million utility bill. Where would the money come from?

“We are still trying to figure that out,” Jones said. “One answer could be better space use.”

“We are going to build those buildings differently than the ones we built in the 1960s,” Poynter said. “They won’t have to be retrofitted. We are going to build them sustainable from the get-go.”

Poynter said when looking at proposals for the buildings, the companies’ energy efficiency reputation will come into play because it is a state requirement now that all buildings be LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified.

In August 2014, Eastern was the first university to receive a gold certification from LEED for New Hall.  Because of the natural light and other features, the 84,000-square foot building saves energy better than any residence hall in Kentucky.

The New Science Building was also constructed with energy efficient concepts, such as concrete floors and inside windows, according to Eastern’s website for Responsible Environmental Stewardship.

Move to geothermal?

An alternative to coal and natural gas is geothermal and, according to Jones, the time to make the change is right now.

Jones said that the best time to make the move to geothermal energy is in the designing phase of new buildings.  Jones said with the new ones coming to Eastern, now is the time to make those moves.

“Our soils around here, our structure is actually great for geothermal energy,” Jones said. “We have great capacity for generating geothermal energy. The expensive part is the upfront cost, but if you are digging holes in the ground and moving ground to build a building that is the time to install geothermal.”

Ball State University started the move to 100 percent geothermal energy.  This was the first university to make such a move.  Geothermal energy reduced its dependence on coal-fired boilers, such as the ones in the Ramsey Heat Plant.

The move saves the university more than $2 million annually, reduces their carbon footprint by half and heats and cools 47 buildings on campus, according to the university.

The project cost more than $80 million and required the drilling of 3,600 boreholes into the ground.  The project was completed in 2014, five years after the initial drilling.

But who would make the decision to go geothermal?  Jones said it would come from the project manager and design team, but the students play the most important role.

“It would really help if the students demonstrated that it is of interest to them,” Jones said. “If students said ‘I want part of my legacy as an EKU student to be I helped campus reduce our overall energy footprint because I expressed that it was of value to me’ then it will happen because you have a responsive president and a responsive facilities that will listen.”

Jones said that when she came to Eastern, the university in the late 1990s, the university was at the top of Kentucky in energy efficiency, but regressed.  But since the Siemens contract and the new plans, she sees a trend that she likes.

“I want to see EKU at the top and in the lead again,” Jones said. “You students have more power than you think.”