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U holds line on energy use despite growth

The 2009 U-M Environmental Report highlights brochure >

U-M Campus Sustainability Web site >

Energy use at U-M has remained nearly constant over the last six years, despite a 9 percent increase in the campus population and an 11 percent increase in building area during that period.

The total amount of energy used at the Ann Arbor campuses was 6.5 trillion British thermal units last year, which equals U-M's average annual energy consumption over the past six years. Heating, cooling and powering the more than 300 campus buildings accounts for more than 90 percent of the energy use, and U-M-owned vehicles account for most of the remainder.

"It's a significant accomplishment, and we hope to continue to hold the line — and perhaps even decrease energy use — in the future. That's the goal," says Terry Alexander, executive director of the university's new Office of Campus Sustainability.

Alexander says upgrades to old, energy-wasting campus buildings, as well as the individual energy-saving efforts of U-M students, faculty and staff helped rein in energy use. Additional savings are expected in the future through Planet Blue, a campuswide education and outreach campaign that combines energy-saving technologies and building improvements with behavioral changes from building occupants.

"Planet Blue has the potential for saving us 10 to 20 percent on our energy budget, maybe more," Alexander says. "That should allow us to grow the campus while keeping energy use stable."

In October President Mary Sue Coleman announced the creation of the Office of Campus Sustainability as part of a new multifaceted initiative to elevate the university's commitment to sustainability in teaching, research and operations.

As one of its first tasks, the office produced the U-M 2009 Environmental Report. The annual reports track the university's efforts to minimize environmental impacts at its Ann Arbor campuses, which cover more than 3,000 acres and include more than 78,000 students, faculty members and staff.

This year's report is being published in a new format: an eight-page brochure that highlights some of the university's accomplishments as an environmental steward. The brochure format helps save paper and should reach a wider audience than its 40-plus-page predecessors, says Ken Keeler, lead author of the report and a senior environmental sustainability representative in the Office of Campus Sustainability. Some copies of the full report will be published later in the year and will be available online.

"There are a lot of energy-conservation efforts under way at the University of Michigan, and we hope this highlights brochure will help spread the word, as well as draw attention to the new Office of Campus Sustainability," Keeler says.

The brochure describes campus sustainability initiatives and details campus energy, water and land use; waste production and recycling; and air emissions in Fiscal Year 2009, which ended June 30. U-M is the only Big Ten school that publishes an annual environmental report listing more than 100 measures of environmental stewardship.

In the coming year, the Office of Campus Sustainability will identify sustainability standards and goals for campus operations. To help define realistic goals, Alexander and his staff will analyze six years of detailed environmental monitoring data.

"This information will help us set realistic targets now, and it will enable us to measure our progress toward those goals in the future," Keeler says.

The university typically spends between $110 million and $120 million a year on energy. About 45 percent of the electricity consumed on the Ann Arbor campuses is generated at the U-M Central Power plant, a natural-gas facility. The rest is purchased from DTE Energy, which relies largely on coal-fired power plants.

Last year, U-M emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that contributes to anthropogenic climate change, dropped by 3.8 percent. The decline mainly was due to an increased reliance on the campus power plant; natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal.

In the coming year, wind-derived electricity will be added to the energy portfolio DTE Energy provides the university, Alexander says. And to show support for green-energy solutions developed by students and faculty, the Office of Campus Sustainability will encourage U-M inventors to "use the campus as a test bed for some of their ideas," he says.

"We're doing a lot of great things from a sustainability standpoint, but there's always more to do and new ways for people to be involved," Alexander says.

The 2009 Environmental Report does not include operations of the North Campus Research Complex, the former Pfizer property purchased at the close of the last fiscal year. That 174-acre property includes 30 buildings comprising nearly 2 million square feet. Major U-M projects under construction include the new C. S. Mott Children's Hospital, a 1.1 million-square-foot facility, and the North Quadrangle Residential and Academic Complex, a 360,000-square-foot project.

Alexander says energy savings gained through Planet Blue — which is scheduled to tackle 30 large university buildings in the coming year — and strict new-building design guidelines will likely offset expected increases in energy consumption due to campus growth. The new guidelines require major projects to implement energy- and water-conservation measures that are 30 percent more restrictive than one of the most widely recognized national building codes.

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