Campus Housing, Dining Digs Fiscal Hole With Energy Use

    Campus officials’ underestimation of energy prices in campus dorms and dining halls has put Housing and Dining Services in hundred of thousands of dollars in debt.

    Billy Wong/Guardian
    Campus dorms and facilities such as Cafe Ventanas have been using so much energy that Housing and Dining Services has gone over its budget, which could mean higher costs next year.

    This fiscal year, the department is approximately $240,000 over its planned utilities budget, according to H&DS Director Mark Cunningham. The overrun is unusual, he said, considering that the statistical models used to estimate energy use are typically precise.

    “Through March 2006, we were approximately 17.2 percent over our planned budget, which is the first time we’ve seen such a large variance in at least a decade or more,” Cunningham stated in an e-mail.

    While the exact magnitude of the overage cost will remain unknown until this summer, Cunningham said he believes that it will still remain close to the current estimate.

    The reason for such a large increase in utilities bill has more to do with national issues than situations on campus, Cunnigham said.

    “Housing and Dining are subject to the same world, national, state and local influences as everyone else,” Cunningham stated. “The impacts of things like war, hurricanes, bad winters in the East, and supply limitations all drive up costs.”

    At the same time, however, H&DS is trying to lower campus energy use by promoting environmental programs for residents, such as the Major Planet campaign. Some steps H&DS has already taken to promote an environmentally sound lifestyle include placing stickers on light switches to remind residents to turn off lights, installing low-flow toilets and shower heads and recycling old refrigerators and ranges.

    The campus department is also implementing some energy-efficient steps at dining halls to reduce energy use.

    Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Allison May said that her suite and she rarely think about energy use.

    May said she does not always turn off the lights when she leaves her room or the bathroom. Unlike living with her parents, she does not make a conscious effort to conserve energy because she does not see the utilities bill living on campus.

    “It’s not something I think about,” May said.

    The main lights are often left on all night in dorms and on-campus apartments, Cunningham said, and added that more focus on energy efficiency could solve many of the department’s budget burdens.

    People who move off campus will not be affected by the utilities budget deficit this year, but next year’s on-campus residents will be charged with higher living expenses to pay the difference.

    “Costs of energy always go up every year and those costs all fall back on the residents to pay,” Cunningham stated. “This is an issue for the entire campus.”

    According to Cunningham, the months of May and June always result in lower energy use because of the weather.

    “Hopefully, we will return to a reasonable increase next year and all will get back on course as far as utility costs,” Cunningham stated.

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