Nov 142005
 
Authors: Caroline Welch

Half a penny saved is half a penny earned, at least for CSU.

By switching 20 university buildings to wind power, CSU saves one half a penny per kilowatt-hour in utility costs, a total of $1,500 for the year, said CSU utility engineer Carol Dollard.

The campus uses two energy companies: City of Fort Collins Utilities and Xcel Energy. City of Fort Collins Utilities powers main campus while Xcel Energy supports auxiliary areas like Hughes Stadium and the Foothills Campus.

In October, the university signed a deal with Xcel Energy to purchase wind power for buildings within the Xcel contracts.

Originally, the university wanted to power all Xcel accounts with wind energy, but found the company lacked the resources to provide that power, Dollard said. The bigger deal also required a three-year contract, while the 20-building agreement is a one-year commitment, allowing the university to re-evaluate savings after one year.

CSU student brings wind to campus

But this purchase from Xcel is not the first wind power choice CSU has made. In fall 2004 Housing and Dining Services offered a program that let students sign up and pay an extra $17 to use wind power in their rooms. On-campus apartments have the same option for $26.

On campus, City of Fort Collins Utilities charges 4.5 cents for fossil fuel power, and 5.5 cents for wind energy. The extra fee covers the penny difference for a full year, Dollard said.

The move to bring wind power to CSU started as a student initiative, wrote Courtney Healey, president of Associated Students of CSU, in an e-mail interview. ASCSU senators passed a bill in February 2004 to request an energy choice for students on campus.

According to the bill, the initiative would provide students living on campus with a choice that "off-campus students already have."

For one student, passing the bill was her avenue to pursue a passion.

"The author, Britta Schroeder, joined ASCSU because she wanted to work on this issue," Healey wrote. "It had been her pet project for years, and she had run into dead ends at every turn, thus she decided to join ASCSU because it might open access ways for change. If it weren't for her, this issue may not have been taken on at the university."

The bill also sent an overall message that "CSU students had a commitment to clean and renewable energy and were willing to put forth the effort to be the first university to offer students a choice of wind power," the e-mail said.

Since the bill, almost 200 students per year have signed up for wind power, said Tonie Miyamato , communications coordinator for Housing and Dining Services.

"We have had a fairly high participation rate, which is really exciting," Miyamato said. "It's really great to see a grassroots student effort be so successful."

Karin Pamperin , junior social work major, said she signed up for wind power both last year and this year.

"I think it is a pathway to a cleaner environment," Pamperin said. "When I look at the alternative, $17 isn't that bad, even if it is just me. I still think it is a good thing to contribute to. I want to set an example."

Housing received a $1,000 donation to help students who wanted to sign up, but couldn't afford to. The department also hopes to increase participation with an online sign up instead of a mail-in registration.

Myth discounted: lights won't flicker

A common myth that wind power is unpredictable may be one thing standing in the way of registration, Miyamato said. But wind energy is just one more way to put power on the grid.

The western United States, from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean (excluding Texas) is powered by one energy grid, Dollard said. All states put power on to the electricity grid via coal, fire, hydro and solar energy. Each state pulls from that supply.

"When the wind blows, we ramp down fossil fuels," Dollard said. "You've got to play the game all the time and keep the balance."

The wind energy CSU purchased will go on to the grid, instead of fossil fuels.

"By purchasing wind power, you're offsetting electricity use," Dollard said. "Solar and wind energy are intermittent."

In offsetting the use of fossil fuels and other types of energy that release harmful chemicals, the university helps the environment and reduces its dependence on non-renewable resources.

"The benefit is really an environmental one," Miyamato said. "By signing up for wind power, students help offset the carbon monoxide released into the atmosphere."

Sustaining resources – an economic choice?

Wind power can also help sustain resources that will eventually disappear.

"Fossil fuels are finite resources," Dollard said. "The more we can do with renewables, the less we have to do with fossil fuels. Renewables can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but can't eliminate our dependence on them."

While the cost for wind power on main campus is higher than typical energy, the rising price of natural gas keeps people wondering if wind energy will eventually be the economic choice.

"The price of natural gas has risen tremendously," Dollard said. "There is less and less of it, while people want more and more."

Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq help drive up costs of natural gas, but they wouldn't have the same effect on wind power.

"It's not like playing the market with natural gas," Dollard said. "Once you buy a wind turbine, you know what it will cost. There are few variable costs."

But while people want more natural gas energy, a higher demand for wind power could mean an economic choice for consumers.

"The more people who buy wind power, the cheaper it is," Miyamato said. "Over time it could become less expensive."

Non-renewable resources will eventually run out, so choosing wind power today is a way to "start making intelligent choices we will have to any way," Dollard said.

 

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