Last fall, a power outage caused several buildings to lose electricity and classes to be cancelled.
John Morris, the manager of facilities operations at CSU, said this sort of power loss is very rare. This outage was caused by an accident a contractor made during an upgrade project at the main campus switch station.
“It caused a short circuit on a part of the system,” Morris said. “This was a rare outage since we only do these types of upgrades every 20-30 years.”
To prevent a major power outage on the main campus, CSU uses a loop system.
“There are multiple buildings on each loop so if a loop goes down, all the buildings on that loop are affected but not all campus buildings,” Morris said. “Each campus electrical distribution system has various loops so we can back feed any area of campus if there is a failure of some kind within the system.”
Buildings on the main campus are connected by an underground system. Foothills Campus has an overhead system, which can be more susceptible to problems such as animals and adverse weather conditions.
In the long term, the plan is to make the Foothills Campus an underground system as well, but budget constraints haven’t made that possible so far.
System wide problems are usually corrected in about 30 minutes.
“Very seldom and I would say far less than once per year do we experience an entire system wide loss of power,” Morris said. “An overall system loss is generally caused by a service provider problem.”
As for causes to a power outage, Morris said there may be several reasons.
“(Both overhead and underground) electrical systems are susceptible to lightening, animals such as squirrels and geese, and wind and ice,” Morris said. “Our preventative maintenance programs are aimed at providing a very reliable electric utility.”
The main campus is powered by the City of Fort Collins. Morris said that the campus’ power comes in at a central meter point and is then distributed to each building. Using university owned distribution systems helps reduce the cost.
“This method has substantial savings to the university as opposed to having power provided to each building by the utility company,” Morris said.
Paying for the electrical services is a small portion of the yearly budget, but the amount of electricity used may surprise people.
“The Main Campus used 92,388,958 kilowatt-hours of electricity in fiscal year 02,” said Carol Dollard, the utility engineer at CSU.
For the 2002 fiscal year the cost of all utilities, including water and electricity, for all campuses added up to 2.6% of the university budget, Dollard said.
“The total cost of electricity for main campus in fiscal year 02 was $3,972,425,” Dollard said.
Over the last 12 years, CSU has evaluated the cost of producing their own energy by using cogeneration, which makes steam and electricity, Morris said.
“All the cost studies we have done over the past 12 years still say that we cannot make it for what we can buy it for, plus pay back the investment needed to build a cogen plant,” Morris said.