University Green-Lights Energy Savings
Considering the light bulb had only been around for 20 years when Coburn Hall opened its doors in 1899, it’s easy to understand why energy efficiency wasn’t a priority at the university’s flagship building.
More than a century later, of course, it’s impossible to imagine a construction project on campus that doesn’t take into account energy consumption, water conservation and overall environmental impact — from the green roof at University Crossing to the cutting-edge lighting system at the Saab Center.
To ensure that the more venerable buildings on campus keep pace when it comes to energy efficiency, the university is making $27 million in upgrades to 32 buildings over the next three years through the state’s Accelerated Energy Program (AEP).
The project, which is expected reduce the university’s energy and water bills by nearly $1.5 million annually, was formally announced by Chancellor Marty Meehan and state officials during the Earth Day Sustainability Festival on April 22 at the South Campus Quad.
“We are proud of the comprehensive sustainability program on this campus that extends from facilities and faculty research to classroom learning, student organizations and operations,” said Meehan, who noted this is the university’s largest-ever sustainability effort. “We are at the forefront of investment in energy conservation among public universities. … And the project we are launching today represents the largest step forward in our Climate Action Plan goal of achieving carbon neutrality on campus by 2050.”
‘Repair, reuse, rejuvenate’
Spearheaded by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) and the Department of Energy Resources, the AEP was launched in 2012 to facilitate $470 million worth of energy and water efficiency projects at 700 sites statewide.
The UMass Lowell project is the AEP’s largest to date, with more than 200 energy-saving measures on tap. Under the leadership of Facilities Management, a team of engineers has already begun a room-by-room audit of the campus to create an energy conservation measures list that includes: 3,500 lighting system upgrades with LED and compact fluorescent alternatives; the addition of more than 630 low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets; the replacement of 26 boilers with natural gas heating equipment; and upgrades to lighting and heating systems campus-wide.
DCAMM Commissioner Carol Gladstone said that while the university should be proud of its new state-of-the-art buildings, its commitment to maximizing the efficiency of its existing buildings is equally important.
“If it all possible, we want to repair, reuse and rejuvenate these buildings,” Gladstone said. “Taking care of infrastructure, it’s not glamorous, it’s not sexy, and it’s hard to get a great cover photo. But if you care about efficiency, if you care about sustainability, you need to care about infrastructure investment.”
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton added that the project will not only save energy and optimize facility operations, but also improve student learning environments.
“We need your energy and knowledge to help us continue to grow Massachusetts’ economy, while improving the environment,” Beaton said.
Financing for the $27 million project includes MassSave incentives from National Grid of more than $2.5 million, as well as a $100,000 solar thermal grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
AEP improvements, meanwhile, will also address over $9 million in deferred maintenance costs to which the state was already committed. That means the university is financing only $15.5 million over 20 years, with an annual repayment of $1.09 million.
Those payments are expected to be more than offset by the annual utility cost savings that result from a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption and a 2.4-million-gallon drop in water usage. In other words, the project more than pays for itself.
It matters to students
Sophomore James Christopher, a political science major who serves as the Student Government Association representative to the Sustainability Committee, said that students care about their school’s commitment to the environment for several reasons.
“Students recognize that sustainability not only will save the environment, but it will create jobs and is fiscally responsible in the long run,” said Christopher, president-elect of the SGA. “It is my belief that one of the defining legacies of my generation is that we both expect and are willing to lobby for environmentally friendly practices from organizations with which we affiliate, and that includes the university we choose to attend.”
Also on hand for the AEP announcement were Dan Burgess, acting commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources; state Rep. Rady Mom and Rep. David Nangle of Lowell.
The surrounding Sustainability Fair, which featured two dozen campus organizations and university partners, was one of several Earth Week events organized by the Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Committee.
Additional events included the “Water-Focused Percussion Ensemble Concert” at Durgin Hall; the “Celebration of Re-purpose: A Community, Art and Music Event” on the South Campus Quad; the “Perspectives on Climate: A Community Discussion and Luncheon” at University Crossing; and the “Bike Expo” and “Bike Fun Ride” at University Crossing.
“It was an honor to have the state officials on hand for the announcement during the Sustainability Festival,” said Sustainability Program Developer Tyler Arrigo. “It was a chance to highlight our university-wide efforts to achieve climate neutrality and sustainability.”