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University of North Dakota reports savings as it goes green

GRAND FORKS — Going green appears to have paid off for the University of North Dakota.

Because of an effort to use more energy-efficient technology, the university said this week that it has saved more than $12 million in the last 10 years even as the number of buildings it has rose.

The university said its greenhouse gas emissions also have dropped 7 percent, though it continues to rely on coal power for steam.

According to university officials, much of those savings come from relatively common changes, such as better light bulbs, used on a large scale.

In fact, the point of the savings with the light bulbs is that they won’t have to be changed much, every 10 years instead of every three years.

“It’s not only savings on the utility portion, but savings on the staff time,” said Larry Zitzow, director of facilities management. “To actually go up you need to have a boom truck. That’s not a cheap process.”


The bulbs account for the biggest chunk of cost-cutting, saving the university more than $720,000 a year. Motion sensors that turn off lights in restrooms when they’re not being used are saving more than $22,000 a year. With about 80,000 square feet of restrooms, even small savings add up.

Further savings come from sensors connected to air vents shut off heating and cooling air in unoccupied rooms.

While the project had a bit of a slow start in 2004, the school now saves an average of $3 million every year even as the total space on campus that needs to be lit and heated continues to increase. It grew from a bit more than 5 million square feet in 2004 to 6.6 million in 2013.

“We needed some ramp-up time to get those projects started,” said Randall Bohlman, technology advancement coordinator, who has worked on the project since the beginning.

Zitzow said it’s been easier as time has gone on and technology has advanced to implement changes around campus. “Those devices weren’t cost effective back in those days.”

There have been four rounds of technology upgrades since 2004, according to a report by Bohlman and Haochi Zheng, a professor in the Earth System Science and Policy Department involved in the energy-efficiency project. The university spent $4.9 million, and originally projected annual savings of nearly $1 million a year, which meant the investments would pay for themselves in about five years. An earlier round of tech upgrades in 2002 cost $4 million and saved $640,000 a year.

The greater efficiency the university enjoys also has brought some reduction in greenhouse gases. The university’s 2010 Climate Action Plan calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut 7 percent by 2020 and 51 percent by 2050 in comparison to 1990 levels.

The current rate of greenhouse gas reduction is in line with the plan.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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