Feb 052012
 
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

Students wondering what happens to the extra money they pay as tuition rises can look to the university utility bill for one answer.

For the upcoming fiscal year, utility costs jumped 5.6 percent and as a result, the university will pay about $750,000 more to cover them. And while the increase doesn’t directly correlate with rising tuition, the university plans to cover it in part with tuition dollars, according to Lynn Johnson, the Chief Financial Officer for CSU.

Johnson said that no specific source of funds is identified for any budgeted university expense, but that all expenditures are covered either by reductions of other budgeted items or increased tuition.

“We can’t say any one is tied to one of the two dials that we’re turning,” Johnson said.

Two factors caused the increased utility expense: rising rates and new construction.

Of the money budgeted for the 2013 fiscal year, $104,000 covers utilities for new buildings, and $647,000 covers the rising utility rates for water, electricity and sewer services.

Electrical rates went up the most, rising 10.2 percent. But, the rise didn’t just impact CSU.

The university buys its electricity from the city of Fort Collins, which in turn purchases it from the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA), a wholesaler.

The PRPA also sells electricity to Estes Park, Loveland, Longmont and other groups, or surplus purchasers, within the western grid.

This year, fewer outside groups opted to purchase electricity, so the PRPA had to turn to the cities to cover costs. Their increase in rates therefore impacted the city, and the city’s increase impacted CSU.

“The economy has been slow,” said John Bleem, the customer services and environmental programs division manager for the PRPA. “As the economy has slowed down, so has demand.”

Students who live off-campus have already been impacted by the increase. In January, Fort Collins utilities increased their residential rate by 6 percent, which meant slightly higher utility costs for students living off campus.

At CSU, officials hope to mitigate the impact of rising rates by decreasing usage of electricity, according to Carol Dollard, the energy program manager for the CSU facilities department.

Dollard said the university tries to ensure energy efficiency in new and old buildings.

The recent expansion of the Student Recreation Center, Dollard explained, doubled the size of the building but not the utility bill because energy efficiency measures covered the difference.

For the past three or four years, this method has kept the cost of utilities flat even though rates were increasing, but this year the rate spike outpaced the savings.

Still, Dollard said saving energy through sustainability measures is one of the ways the university plans to deal with rising rates.

Much of the PRPA’s energy comes from non-sustainable resources such as coal, but Colorado’s renewable energy standard requires the city to provide at least 30 percent of its energy through sustainable resources, and that savings is passed on to CSU.

Dollard said the bottom line is not using the energy to begin with.

“We can’t change the make-up of the electricity we buy, but we can control the amount we buy,” she said. “The greenest kilowatt hour is the one we never use.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Rising Rates
Utility budget fiscal year 2012: $13.5 million
Utility budget 2013 fiscal year: $14.2 million
Total increase: $750,000

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