With funding too low and utility bills too high, the UCSB Physical Facilities Dept. is doing everything in its power to conserve the energy used by existing structures while trying to shore up its maintenance budget.

Recent cuts in state funding and rising electricity and natural gas prices have forced the university’s Purchase Utilities Budget into a deficit, said David Gonzales, assistant vice chancellor for Physical Facilities. The expansion of the university through buildings such as the new Engineering Science Building and the NanoSystems Institute has only compounded the problem.

Campus Energy Manager Jim Dewey said the budget strains have forced the Physical Facilities Dept. to cut back on its maintenance of school buildings and equipment in order to continue to provide power to all buildings on campus. He said facilities and energy managers have engaged in a concerted effort to conserve energy within existing buildings on campus. The university is also looking for alternative means to fund the building, Dewey said.

Energy Conservation Efforts

Gonzales said campuswide efforts have been effective thus far, and the UCSB 2004 Energy Report showed overall savings of $26 million in electricity costs since 1997. In 1998, the campus consumed 23.98 kilowatts hours of electricity per square foot, but he said the university cut that down to 17.65 kilowatt hours by 2004.

“There’s a major reduction when you compare 2004 to 1998 in terms of [energy] usage, and that’s pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we’ve grown significantly since then,” Gonzales said. “So how could we use less power while we’re growing? Only by being more conservation conscious with more efficient equipment.”

Dewey said the university is also looking for ways to make equipment within the new buildings run more efficiently, in an effort to reduce costs. He said certain equipment, such as each building’s air conditioning system, might also be improved without compromising the function of each building’s clean room and environment.

“Whenever you have to control precise temperature and humidity, a lot of times you have a lot of systems that use a lot of energy in order to meet those requirements,” Dewey said. “Also, we have to look at the possibility of whether there’s some waste going on as far as air movement. We just want to make sure the systems are all working according to the way they were originally intended to work and see if there’s a way we can improve in their operational effectiveness and efficiency.”

The university also has plans to replace its current power grid, the central control system for on-campus electricity supply, sometime next year. Gonzales said the new grid will have a higher output capacity, which will help cut down on the number of overloads and blackouts on campus. He said Physical Facilities hopes this will lower energy costs in the long run.

Building Alternative Income

The university has also become increasingly dependent on UCSB faculty receiving research grants to help sustain campus electricity and facilities maintenance costs. Lab Manager Jack Whaley, who oversees the labs at the Engineering Science Building, said all buildings that house any research projects receive an overhead fee taken from the grants awarded to the project’s researchers.

Louise Moore, executive director for the Office of Research, said the university’s overhead fee takes a 47 percent cut off the top of any researcher’s grant and uses the money to reimburse the university for any expenses it incurs by supporting the project or supplying the researcher with the necessary equipment to conduct his or her experiment, such as increased utilities fees. Researchers then receive the remaining 53 percent of their research grant to use for actually conducting their experiments.

“All grants have to pay for indirect costs that help to support research grants,” Moore said. “The money goes to several generalized activities, and hopefully it is enough to support [the project].”

Moore said that each research university negotiates its overhead rate with the federal government on a yearly basis. This year’s overhead rate increased 1 percent from last year’s, Moore said, based on expenditures and research costs – which factor in administration costs, as well as facilities and operations maintenance costs from the previous year.

Last year, UCSB received $161.4 million from these overhead fees, Moore said. The previous year, the university received $143.9 million.

Abbey Keck, an administrative assistant for an electrical and computer engineering research group, said researchers have learned to expect such large cuts from their grants and have begun to compensate by adding the value of the 47 percent overhead fee to their original award requests. Keck said she thinks researchers have realized the necessity of the overhead cuts to their grant money.

“The more money [we have], the more research we can do,” Keck said. “Forty-seven percent is a lot of money, but maybe we couldn’t do the research we do without the overhead.”

While equipment in certain buildings, such as the clean rooms in the Engineering Science Building, may be particularly expensive to sustain, Whaley said these are also the buildings drawing the most research revenue to the university. He said projects exploring topics such as micro- and nanofabrication, as well as electrical, computer and mechanical engineering, will draw large amounts of money to the university, and will help fund many of the operations and maintenance costs for the campus.

“If this facility wasn’t here, the money coming in would be substantially less,” Whaley said. “Clearly, this space utilizes more resources per square foot than, say, a dorm. However, the amount of overhead income generated by the operation of this lab also is very high, so it’s not like we’re a huge sink without providing any funds.”

Gordon Morrison, a post-doctorate electrical engineering student researching the fabrication of semi-conductor devises, said he thinks the clean rooms are essential for much of the research conducted at UCSB.

“Without a clean room, no research would be done in these fields – you have to have a clean room,” Morrison said. “If a university has a medium-sized electrical engineering department, it’s expected to have a clean room, especially since the caliber of research being done here is internationally renowned.”

Counting on the Governor

Gonzales said state budget cuts are affecting all state institutions and universities. He said other universities are struggling just as much to curb their energy consumption while keeping the electricity flowing across their campuses. Many public colleges now face the same challenge to find the balance between expansion and maintenance, Gonzales said.

“This is a temporary situation,” he said. “It’s just making it very challenging right now because one would think that with all the new buildings going online, there is plenty of money to take care of them. Right now there isn’t plenty of money to take care of them. [We’re asking,] ‘How do we spread our maintenance dollars to cover the challenge of taking care of our existing buildings plus these great new buildings?'”

The hope is that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget will pass this summer with the much-needed funding for Physical Facilities still intact, Gonzales said. Once the university receives more money, it can begin to fix the Purchase Utilities Budget deficit and alleviate the other budget stresses state cuts have provoked. If Physical Facilities’ hopes for increased state funding are not fulfilled, Gonzales said the department would have to wait and make do with the current budget until the situation improves.

“The anticipation is that funding from the state will improve, and when that happens, we’ll have a better understanding of how to deal with the Purchase Utilities Budget,” Gonzales said. “We’re hoping. As the budget improves, we’re hoping we will get that money.”

Dewey said current efforts to conserve energy can only supplement a meager budget for so long.

“To maintain the level of performance, we need for the kind of research and academics that we have at this university, we need more funding,” Dewey said. “You can’t maintain systems with bargain basement funding. Our ability to run things effectively and efficiently is going to decrease and eventually people are going to start to notice a difference.”