Building Inefficiencies Pose Challenge for Carbon Neutrality

As Tutt Library undergoes a massive renovation, it has garnered attention as one of the largest academic buildings in the nation to attain carbon neutrality. But for all the hype surrounding the changes to Tutt, attention has shifted to other buildings on campus and their environmental performance. As the quest for campus-wide carbon neutrality continues, the other less-efficient buildings are equally important in achieving that goal.

In fiscal year 2016, the college spent a little over $2.1 million on utilities, the majority of which are used in campus buildings. Buildings are by far the largest user of energy on Colorado College’s campus. The largest slice was spent on electricity, which amounted to $1.1 million. The second largest was natural gas, at $500,000.

“The vast majority of energy comes from Colorado Springs Utilities,” said Sustainability Director Ian Johnson. “Last year, about 7 percent was generated either through campus rooftop solar panels or one of the three community solar gardens that we have a quarter share in.”

When it comes to measuring building efficiency, the common unit is kBTU per square feet. This unit really measures energy intensity, and allows for all buildings, regardless of size, to be compared in a similar way.

In fiscal year 2016, campus buildings used 78.1 kBtu per square foot, a 3.1 percent decrease from the previous year. Since 2008, campus energy intensity per square foot has decreased 25.8 percent. Cumulative avoided costs for utilities are estimated to be nearly $4 million since the 2008 baseline year.

Surprisingly, as energy intensity per square foot has decreased, metric tons of CO2 emitted per square foot have increased. Johnson explained that the statistics reflected a discontinuation of a contract with a wind offset. “One of the things that changed is we had some wind power that a contract expired at the end of 2014,” said Johnson. “So that creates an upward trend in emissions while still having a decrease in energy use.”

The CC Energy Report, released in September of 2016, displays each campus building’s energy usage and the associated cost. The report distinguishes between facility, educational, and residential structures.

The Honnen Ice Rink is by far the least efficient building on campus. Honnen uses over 300 kBTU/SF/Yr. The Honnen building will soon be torn down and replaced with a new ice arena on the northeast side of campus. Following Honnen, the least efficient buildings on campus are the Worner Center and the El Pomar Sports Center.

Barnes Science Center is the least efficient of educational buildings at 155 kBTU/SF/Yr, followed in a distant second and third by Packard Hall and Tutt Science Center. Due to the energy-intensive technology and practices necessary for scientific education, the science buildings consistently top the educational buildings list.

The John Lord Knight apartment building has the largest footprint of residential buildings, with a 110 kBTU/SF/Yr. The likely cause of JLK topping the list is the Preserve, located on the bottom floor. Loomis Hall and Bemis Hall are not far below JLK in terms of kBTU/SF/Yr. 

Because buildings use the vast majority of utilities, they factor heavily into CC’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. That goal was established as a part of the President’s Climate Commitment, signed by former President Dick Celeste in 2009.

While CC has made progress, it will be an uphill battle to reach the goal by 2020. The college in fiscal year 2016 saw a reduction of 24.8 percent in carbon emissions since 2008, but still emits 18,382 metric tons of CO2.

This number, as well as the recent presidential election, has caused more and more students to investigate sustainability at CC. Annabelle O’Neill, a Buildings and Grounds Intern at the Office of Sustainability, said, “a lot of students right now are coming to us with frustration because they don’t see the full picture of what’s happening… we have been trying to communicate what’s going on better with students and help relieve tensions that we as a school aren’t doing enough.”

The current situation requires the college to look to offsets. “When we are looking at how to reach neutrality by 2020, there is a necessity to look towards offsets for current buildings,” said O’Neill. “Certain realties happen when you build an ice rink, for example. It’s really difficult to build that net zero and carbon neutral.”

Meanwhile, the Sustainability Council has specified the scope of the neutrality. Additionally, they have revised some of the timelines in light of the varying scopes. Different scopes determine whether the neutrality includes off-campus uses and even travel.

“We started looking at what’s feasible by 2020,” said Johnson. “By 2020, we are still looking at trying to be 100 percent self-sufficient with our energy, whether that’s contracting long-term for wind power purchase or investing in more solar. We are looking at 2025 for our on-campus generation. And then by 2030, looking at employees commuting to work, airplane travel.” Johnson clarified that the Campus Sustainability Council made these recommendations and they are not hard and fast goals stated by the college administration.

Neutrality in regards to commute and air travel relies even more heavily on offsets because these expenses are necessary to the functioning of the college and yet cannot easily be done purely through renewables.

The acquisition of the Fine Arts Building poses an additional challenge because that building has significant energy needs. “One of the things that the Sustainability Council sent to the budget committee this year was a request for offsets in the amount of the Fine Arts Center’s energy use,” said Johnson. “We had requested a budget creation that, at market rates, amounts to $17,000 a year for regionally based offsets.”

Regionally based offsets counter the common critique of offsets as an imperial or colonial practice, where wealthy nations buy large tracts of land in developing countries.

Johnson stressed that the college will be intentional in their offset acquisition. “Looking at those offsets, are they things that we own and control, projects that we can use in the classrooms? You are not just throwing your money into a black box and treating it as a sin tax, but you are using that opportunity to create jobs, education, learning, and literacy, both on our campus and in the greater community.”

Ethan Greenberg

Ethan Greenberg

Ethan Greenberg

Latest posts by Ethan Greenberg (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *