The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Does Macalester squander energy?

By Jakob Wartman

Macalester tops the list in electricity usage per residential student among a small group of Minnesota private colleges, according to a survey released in part by the college.

The survey was conducted by Intep, a green-design consulting firm hired by the college. Macalester is listed as the greatest user of electricity in terms of annual kilowatt hours (kwh) per full-time residential student, at 10,826 kwh. By comparison, an average U.S. household uses about 10,000 kwh of energy each year.

Besides Macalester, four other colleges, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Olaf, College of St. Scholastica and Carleton worked with Intep on a survey that would allow an “apples to apples” comparison between each college’s energy usage, Intep consultant Joel Schurke said.

The survey allows the colleges to observe their peers and to initiate dialogue on energy conservation, Schurke said.

However, Mark Dickinson, Director of Facilities Management, disputes the ranking due to the methodology of the survey, which counts only residential students in its per capita calculation.

“The survey is interesting, but I don’t want to get in an embroiled discussion about it. I’m not sure that measure is appropriate.” Dickinson said of Macalester ranking highest in electricity consumption.

With around 30 percent of Macalester students living off campus, the college has a smaller proportion of residential students than do the other schools in the survey. Thus the college said the results favor colleges with more residential students.

Dickinson readjusted the data calculating the per capita consumption by using the total student body instead of just residential students. He found that when all full-time Macalester students are figured into the calculation, the school annually uses 7,469 kwh per full-time student, a 30 percent drop from Intep’s calculations, putting Macalester third in electricity consumption.

“Joel [Schurke] wasn’t trying to mislead anyone, I am just arguing that number is not a good representation,” Dickinson said. “After normalizing the data it looks like we might be right in line.”

Dickinson’s calculation has its problems as well, failing to recognize the electrical usage of off-campus students who statistically consume more energy than those living in dorms, Schurke said.

“It is a better model [environmentally] to have students living on campus than off campus,” Schurke said.

The survey credits Macalester for what it has been doing right. It rated Macalester as the highest college in terms of building standards, the lowest consumer of heating energy and the second most conservative primary energy user.

“Macalester is setting measurable performance goals on progress,” Schurke said. “And while Macalester might not make it on every case, setting performance requirements is atypical among colleges.”

Last year, the college spent $677,250 on nearly 13 million kwh to keep all its buildings powered and operational. Olin-Rice is the most consumptive building on campus, using 2.3 million kwh—about 15 percent of the total energy use—followed by Kagin, the campus center and the library all requiring around 1 million kwh annually.

Dickinson said electricity is in high demand in these particular buildings because of lab equipment, lighting, and space. Olin-Rice needs to continuously power the vent hoods in the chemistry department and run numerous pieces of scientific equipment that demand high electrical input, for example.

Lately there has been a great increase in electrical need for each student, reflecting the use of additional equipment like computers, televisions and refrigerators. The buildings have not changed, but what is being used has changed greatly, Schurke said.

Some students recognize electricity as an increasing concern facing Macalester. President of the Doty Conservation Corps, Timothy Herder-Thomas `09 discussed many possible ways for the college to save energy while also cutting electrical costs, but described a gap between student and staff communication.

“Lighting in the rooms is very bright and many students don’t like that,” Herder-Thomas said. “Facilities management has warmer bulbs that use less energy, but didn’t know students would prefer that.”

Minimizing electrical demand can be as simple as flipping a switch or putting a computer to sleep and Intep wants students to think about individual actions they can take to minimize their environmental impact.

“The question I hope the survey raises is what students can do to lessen their electrical load and have a smaller ecological footprint,” Schurke said. “I don’t know if students are talking to each other and my hope is to get engagement between students.”

–Correction: The first paragraph in this article, as originally published, implied Macalester leads four comparison schools in total electricity use, not per-residential student.

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