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The Other Side of the Budget Equation

University Business, Jan 2012

While most auxiliary service departments look for opportunities to bring in more money as a means of funding their operations, examining ways to reduce expenses can work just as well. That’s what Bradley Markley, director of facility services at Messiah College in Grantham, Penn., has been doing for the last four years, with impressive results.

The catalyst for some massive infrastructure changes at Messiah was the January 2010 notice from Pennsylvania Power and Lighting (PPL) that the college’s electric rate would be increasing from $.03-per-kilowatt hour (KWH) to $.115-per-KWH—a near 360 percent increase, points out Markley.

For decades, the college had purchased electricity during off-peak rates, using it to heat hot water overnight, which was then stored in two 3,100-gallon underground storage tanks for use throughout the day, when utility rates were much higher.

Although the loss of that much-lower electric rate put pressure on Markley and his team to find a way to offset those added costs, they had already been researching potential solutions long before 2010. The answer they discovered was a solar thermal system, which would effectively reverse the process Messiah had been using, by gathering solar power during the day to heat hot water, and then store it in the same tanks underground until needed.

The solar thermal system was installed on the roof of a 113,000-square foot three-building residence hall called the north complex, and is composed of 112 panels made of 3,360 solar thermal tubes. In 2010, the college spent $142,618 just to heat and provide hot water for this complex, says Markley.

Construction work began in March 2011 and was completed at the end of September 2011, at a cost of $1.3 million, well under the $2 million budget. Based on the college’s new rates, Markley expects a six or seven-year payback from the system, which provides the equivalent of power to heat water for nearly 2,000 family homes.

An added bonus is its reduction of greenhouse gases. The solar thermal system will reduce the college’s output of carbon emissions by 788 tons, or the equivalent of taking 130 cars off the street per year, or planting 3,600 trees per year.

Next, with money remaining in its budget from the solar thermal system, facility services looked at reducing the college’s lighting expenses. Messiah’s main dining hall previously had 122 quartz lighting fixtures, which had been installed in 1972 when the building was built. Spending $64,000, facility services replaced all of the quartz fixtures with high efficiency compact fluorescent lighting and reduced its electric usage immediately from 121,684 KWH to 35,301 KWH—a 71 percent reduction. The projected savings from the switch is $9,600 per year.

Then, the department replaced 72 metal halide fixtures in the large gymnasium with T5 and T8 fluorescent fixtures, providing a projected $4,300-per-year savings in utility costs.

Markley says, “Since utility costs will continue to increase, the only way to offset those increases is through projects that reduce utility usage.” Generating additional revenue is another option for keeping up with rising costs, although a combination of the two approaches will yield optimal results.