Students calculate how much carbon dioxide the university produces

Saturday, March 29, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Roger Morrow opened one of the doors to the blazing coal furnace on boiler No. 3 Friday at the Southeast Missouri State University power plant.

In the push to be more environmentally friendly, Kyrie Haddock says Southeast Missouri State University falls where most universities do: just starting to study its environmental effect.

"We are at the start of making this a more prominent issue, one that will be given a little more attention in the next five to 10 years. Many universities, like us, are just getting beginning with trying to make their campus greener," the senior said.

Haddock is one of eight students undertaking a major project, the first of its kind for the university, to calculate a carbon footprint. The footprint will show the amount of carbon dioxide produced through the university's use of coal, electricity and transportation.

Students are poring through data provided by facilities management to determine, for instance, how much carbon is produced from a kilowatt-hour of electricity. There are several calculators provided online, but the students want to be more specific and are therefore completing a majority of the calculations themselves.

By the end of the semester, the class hopes to have the footprint complete, and will present it data April 30.

"We could lay the groundwork, and maybe the next class could make the next step," Devin Vitt said. Future steps include outlining ways the university could reduce consumption. Ideas include installing double-pane windows on campus, using electric fleet vehicles or installing more efficient heating and cooling systems.

The suggestions could spark a universitywide initiative at a time when Southeast is outlining a strategic plan that would set goals and priorities for the university for the next three to five years. Cost and human behavior will play a big part in what is implemented or accomplished, said Dr. Dennis Holt, vice president of administration and enrollment management.

"Hardest to get to are behavior issues, like the offices that leave their computers on 24 hours a day or parking. If you use the shuttle system, it's more efficient than driving from one end of campus to another," he said.

The university stopped co-generation this year, and now buys all of its electricity from AmerenUE. The decision was spurred by news the cost of repairing a broken turbine would be half a million dollars.

The power plant is still used to produce steam for heating and cooling, but 60 percent less coal is used. The cost savings will allow the university to begin purchasing smaller boilers powered by cleaner-burning natural gas, not coal. "This is one case where the financials line up with green goals, which is not always the case," Holt said. The first boiler will be replaced this summer at a cost of $800,000.

About seven years ago the university began installing motion-sensitive lights depending on the use of a room. Lights in restrooms, for example, will go out after five to 10 minutes if no motion is detected. The university also deliberately purchased flat-screen monitors on computers because they generate less heat. And a campus recycling program initiated by Student Government began about six years ago.

Dr. Steve Overmann, who co-heads the environmental science seminar focused on carbon footprinting, said there are still ways the campus can improve.

Double-paned windows in Academic Hall would be more efficient. The university could schedule classes, over the summer especially, so that an entire building is not cooled for only two classes being held. An option could be established for students living in residence halls to purchase "green" power, or power that comes from renewable resources like wind, sun or water.

According to AmerenUE's Web site, the average customer who purchases green power by enrolling in Pure Power reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than 19,500 pounds per year, equivalent to not driving a car for nearly two years. The Web site says the program would cost an extra $15 a month for someone who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month.

"There are going to have to be fundamental changes in society. In the meantime the climate is going to continue to change," Overmann said.

The university could not afford to design its newest dorm, being constructed at Henderson Avenue and Broadway, to be LEED certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. The council promotes buildings that use renewable energy and reduce waste.

Bowdoin, Swarthmore and Carnegie Mellon all have a building on campus that is LEED-certified. Holt said that to build the dorm at Southeast to the qualifications would have cost "several million dollars more."

However, he said that the architect began the design of the building with the heating and cooling system to focus on efficiency. "It was very impressive. It's the first time I've seen that. He started from the inside and built out," Holt said.

He said the public is gradually becoming more aware of environmental concerns and the need to conserve. "I think people are being to think it's not just a kooky, political, ideological thing. It just makes good sense," he said.

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