Coping With Rising Fuel Costs on Campus

Fuel prices have been rising steadily in recent years, and these high prices have become a constant topic in the news, and even in our current Presidential election. This month we focused on solutions colleges and universities are employing to compensate for this escalating expense and spoke with Dustin Jackson, assistant director of sustainability and energy management, and Lee Kernek, associate vice president for administration and finance, from the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando.

Have rising gas prices been a hot topic on your campus?
Dustin: Yes, they have. They affect everybody; all of our students, faculty, and staff are affected by this, including our cost of operations due to the fuel prices rising.

Lee: We have been informed that our electric costs are going up nine to 11 percent in July, and there will be another impact in January; these rising costs in electricity are directly related to the rising fuel costs. So we are all trying to deal with that impact. Just the electric costs will be another $1.6M next year. That’s on top of what we are already paying.

What types of programs have you implemented or do you plan to implement at UCF?
Dustin: As far as implementations, we are really moving towards working with our biodiesel reactor and increasing its output so that we can hopefully fuel our campus shuttles here. We would like our campus vehicles to run on a flex-fuel source. Furthermore, we want to have some sort of preferred parking for those individuals who drive fuel-efficient vehicles. We’ve also worked with our transportation and parking services group to promote and advertise our shuttle services to try to reduce the number of cars that come to campus daily. Also, we’ve started a ride-share database, where students, faculty, and staff can sign up to minimize the amount of commuter traffic to the school.

We also really are striving to work on our campus dependence on fossil fuels, including exploring photovoltaic energy devices and solar-powered water heating for our dorms.

Once again addressing the rising costs, we are trying to start a green computer program where we would shut down all the computer labs and equipment during the night.

We also have our building commissioning program to help optimize our existing buildings and do lighting retrofits to make sure we are using the most efficient lighting. There is also a new initiative on campus requiring all new buildings to be rated LEED Silver or higher.

Lee: This year we’re hoping to have our first yearly analysis of our carbon footprint. We have been able to reduce our energy consumption by 22 percent over the past five years.

We are also working to house, maintain, and fuel our shuttles on campus. Currently they are housed, maintained, and fueled off-site, which we feel creates more pollution. We are also looking towards building scheduling to keep our energy use down when no one is using the buildings. Right now, our buildings are open for anyone to come in at any time.

Have you seen a lot of cross-departmental problem solving with this issue?

Lee: We’ve formed several sustainability alliances on campus now as grassroots organizations, creating a partnership between education, research, and service, and eventually a sustainability center sponsored by all three groups. We’re looking at energy and environment together, including combining all of our landscape and natural resources together. So we do research as well as operations.

What do you see as a solution to this issue in the future for colleges and universities?
Lee: I see the future is this next generation [of students] because I think that’s where you are going to see the excitement about new technology… and involving them in these initiatives is going to be the direction that will get us over that line.

Dustin: From an operational standpoint, universities have to foster these initiatives with awareness of these issues. People need to be aware that we have a large bill to pay each month, and we really need to focus on minimizing our consumption.