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U. of I. group seeking ideas to improve energy efficiency on campus

Sharita Forrest, News Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Got a bright idea for a clean-energy project? The Energy Subcommittee of the Committee on a Sustainable Campus Environment wants to hear it.

The subcommittee is requesting proposals on projects or programs that would provide the campus with new clean energy sources or help the campus reduce its energy consumption and costs.

Anyone – including students, faculty or staff members and businesses – may submit a letter of inquiry proposing a project or program that could be implemented on campus. Examples of possible projects that the subcommittee would consider include sponsoring energy efficiency competitions in the residence halls, exchange programs where fluorescent light bulbs are swapped for incandescent bulbs, energy audits of campus buildings or the development of permanent demonstration projects using renewable energy sources.

Funding for approved projects would be provided in part by the clean energy technology fee that students pay each semester. The $2 fee, which students approved in a March 2003 referendum, was implemented during the fall 2003 semester and supports the use of clean energy and energy efficient technologies on campus. The fee generates about $70,000 per semester and its implementation was promoted by the Students for Environmental Concerns and the Illinois Student Senate.

The program has helped catalyze several environmentally friendly energy initiatives, generating cost savings and energy efficiency for the university and its facilities, creating a cleaner environment, and has led to the development of hands-on research projects that enhance students’ learning, said Matt Malten, campus sustainability coordinator.

“Everyone is starting to think much more strategically about energy issues, and it’s transforming both the operational and the educational sides of the university,” Malten said.

“Energy is a crucial global issue and we want to heighten awareness in the campus community, and we think the competition will help do that.”

Among the initiatives that the clean energy fee program is funding is the development of a wind farm on campus to supplement the power generated by Abbott Power Plant. Three wind turbines will be installed on the South Farms and will feed energy into the campus electrical distribution system, providing up to 2.7 percent of the electricity needed on campus, without the air pollution and atmospheric emissions produced by coal or natural gas. About $300,000 in funding for the $5.7 million wind farm project will come from the clean energy fee program; another $2 million will be provided by a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

The wind turbine project is expected to be substantially completed by fall 2007, about a year later than originally anticipated because heightened interest in renewable energy and the development of large-scale wind farms, such as the 267-turbine Twin Groves Wind Farm being constructed in eastern McLean County, have caused a backlog with equipment manufacturers.

The Facilities and Services Division is working with a consultant who is advising on possible sources for the equipment, assisting with the request for proposals process and will help finalize a site. The site that is being proposed is located 1/2 to one mile northeast of the new beef and sheep complex near the intersection of Old Church Road and Race Street.

The clean energy fee program also is supporting development of a small-scale wind turbine project being built by the UI chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that partners engineers and engineering students in sustainable engineering projects intended to improve the quality of life for people in developing communities. The turbine, which will have exchangeable wooden blades 10 feet in diameter, will be placed on the roof of Everitt Laboratory and will furnish some of the building’s energy. Several classes will be using the turbine for demonstration and educational purposes.

One of the busiest buildings on campus, the Illini Union, also will benefit from the clean energy fee program.

The energy subcommittee will be providing $50,000 in funding for an energy audit of the Illini Union by the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center, a program in the School of Architecture that promotes energy efficiency and energy conservation practices in small- to medium-sized for-profit businesses. The funding will be applied toward the audit and proposed building modifications that arise from it.

This is the first time that the energy subcommittee has requested proposals for projects to support.

“Our committee’s first priority was to get the wind turbine project well on its way, and having accomplished that, the committee felt that it would be important to seek additional input and ideas from the campus community,” said Jennifer Walling, chair of the energy subcommittee.