Editor’s Note – It takes a lot to keep the lights on at a research university. The first of two parts, today’s story looks at how new buildings and budget cuts are affecting UCSB’s power supply. Tomorrow’s story will focus on campus efforts to conserve energy.
The influx of new research buildings on campus – most recently the Engineering Sciences Building – coupled with state budget cuts and the increase in the cost of utilities, has left the university’s utilities budget in the red.
Gene Lucas, acting executive vice chancellor, said the UCSB Office of Budget & Planning is allowing the electricity and natural gas utilities account to run into deficit because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget, which will be finalized this summer, allocates more funding during the next fiscal year to power UCSB’s facilities. But until the financial situation improves, the Physical Facilities Dept. is doing everything it can to keep the energy costs down, said David Gonzales, assistant vice chancellor of the department.
“The campus allows us to maintain a deficit for the time being because it’s a short-term situation, and we will work our way out when funding becomes available,” Gonzales said.
Once the Engineering Sciences Building becomes fully operational this summer, Campus Energy Manager Jim Dewey and his team will inspect the environmental systems of the building, such as air conditioning, to see if there is anything else they can do to improve its efficiency. The building, located at the east end of campus next to the Chemistry Building, was designed with lighting linked to motion detectors and efficient air circulation and fans that reduce the need for air conditioning. Gonzales said other campuswide energy conservation projects – such as lighting replacement, air conditioning retrofits and upgrading the campus’ chilled water loop – were funded in recent years by bonds sold by the university to private investors.
Even with energy conservation measures in place, Engineering Sciences – which is not yet fully operational – still costs the university $85 per hour to operate, Dewey said. Comparatively, a university office building like Cheadle Hall costs $10 per hour, he said.
Dewey said he expects the Engineering Sciences Building’s energy costs to increase 30 to 50 percent once its 12,000-square-foot clean room, the largest on campus, comes on line this summer.
A clean room strictly regulates air temperature, humidity and particle content so dangerous chemicals and gases are disposed of safely and sensitive experiments are protected, Lab Manager Jack Whaley said. Most of the research currently done in the Engineering II clean room will be moved to Engineering Sciences, while Engineering II will become a teaching lab, he said.
In addition to Engineering Sciences, the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), located along Ocean Road, is currently under construction and is expected to open in late 2005 or early 2006.
CNSI, which will house another clean room, is expected to have utility costs and energy consumption similar to Engineering Sciences, Dewey said.
Dewey said the Engineering Sciences and CNSI buildings would consume approximately one megawatt-hour of energy each. Another research building, the Life Sciences Building, located next to the Psychology Building and across from Anacapa Hall, is also in construction and will probably use three-fourths of a megawatt-hour of energy, he said.
In comparison, Cheadle Hall uses approximately one-fourth of a megawatt-hour of energy, according to the UCSB Energy website. The total university energy consumption currently peaks at 12.5 megawatt-hours on average, while the total campus capacity is 25 megawatt-hours at any given moment, Dewey said.
Though not yet fully operational, Dewey said the Engineering Sciences Building is the largest energy consumer on campus, using 616,000 kilowatt-hours during March 2005. Engineering II used the second largest amount of energy, at 558,000 kilowatt-hours, followed by Davidson Library, which consumed 419,000 kilowatt-hours of energy.
Dewey said the two research buildings are large energy consumers because of the precise air circulation and temperature required to operate their clean rooms. The library is a large building, which uses most of its energy for air conditioning and lighting.
“The university is taking on a whole new emphasis. … We’re taking one step further toward supporting that real intensive research that uses a lot of energy. It’s just going to be a price we have to pay,” Dewey said. “What I try to do is conserve the best we can in existing buildings and then come into the new buildings and see if we can’t operate those more effectively.”
The Extent of Physical Facilities Cuts
The UCSB Purchase Utilities budget, which pays for electricity and natural gas for the state-funded buildings on campus, took a 4.3-percent cut from last year, leaving $8,864,121 to work with this year, Gonzales said.
Cuts to the main Physical Facilities Operations and Maintenance of Plant (OMP) budget, which pays for building maintenance, have caused the department to cut staff members, perform fewer maintenance checks and put off major infrastructure replacement, Gonzales said.
Gonzales said that this year, the OMP budget took an 18.6-percent cut from last year, bringing the total amount of money Physical Facilities has to work with down to $12,601,841 for the school year. He said the state funds the operations and maintenance of the approximately 300 state-funded buildings on campus, such as Engineering Sciences and Life Sciences, on a per-square-foot basis.
UCSB is supposed to receive $9 per square foot for each of its newest buildings, funding that is called workload, but the state has not provided the much-needed money for the past two years because of statewide budget cuts, Gonzales said.
“[This money from the state] is never enough to do all the work that needs to be done; we’re always in a situation of prioritizing our work,” Gonzales said. “The theory is that you get more money for new buildings, and you’re going to spend less money on [maintenance of the] new buildings. Well, it doesn’t always work out that way. … It only works if we are able to spend some of our money for new buildings on crises that occur in old buildings.”
As a research institution, UCSB cannot shut down important systems used during experiments and other studies when there is a lack of money, Gonzales said.
“If we interfere with the academic mission or the research mission in any way, we’re working against the university, so we have to save as much as we can and maintain high levels of control within the buildings,” Dewey said.
Many of the campus building projects that are being completed now, such as the Engineering Sciences and Life Sciences buildings, were started a few years ago when interest rates were low, Dewey said. This was an ideal time for the university to build and finance large capital investments because it saved money. He said the university’s challenge now is to maintain and operate the structures despite the tightening Physical Facilities budget.
In addition, Gonzales said the absence of workload and basic funding is particularly important because most of the campus infrastructure is 40 years old. Less frequent maintenance checks result in an increased likelihood of equipment failures, Gonzales said.
Unfortunately, the state has not been able to provide the money for deferred maintenance or major campus infrastructure problems and replacements for the past three years. When emergency equipment failures occur, Gonzales said, money from the already tight OMP budget is used to pay for the repairs.
Because Engineering Sciences is new, deferred maintenance will not be a problem for some time, Gonzales said. When equipping the clean room, Whaley said he purchased backups for important equipment.
“This facility is designed to be redundant with two of everything, so when something fails, it doesn’t shut the facility down,” Whaley said. “If the laboratories were to be shut down, there would be a broad impact. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Gonzales said the lack of state funding due to budget cuts and the excess of operations and maintenance that require money creates a big problem for Physical Facilities, but the hope is that the situation is temporary, and, in the meantime, efforts are being made to curb costs.