UI nets $736,000 from peak energy usage reduction program


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University of Iowa officials are cutting back on energy use this summer, and they're getting paid for it.

The UI has participated in MidAmerican Energy's summer curtailment program since 2002. The university experienced its first official curtailments in the last three to four years on June 27 and 28.

"The last several summers, we have only had one [curtailment period each year], but this summer we had two," said Glen Mowery, the director of utilities and energy management for Facilities Management.

Every summer, the university commits to reducing its energy use up to 16 megawatts in order to save MidAmerican from having to purchase outside its energy during peak-use times.

Because of the commitment, the university is reimbursed $46 per kilowatt by MidAmerican Energy. There are 1,000 kilowatts per megawatt.

The UI has never had to fully reduce their electrical use by the full 16 megawatts but is nevertheless compensated for its commitment to save energy — a move that this year will bring in $736,000.

According to the UI Facilities Management website, this means lower electrical rates for the university.

"Whether we curtail one time or the full 16, we get the same reimbursement," Mowery said. "We are paid for our commitment."

For the UI, the curtailment season runs from June 1 through Sept. 30, during which MidAmerican can notify the university of a curtailment period up to 16 times. UI officials will be asked to reduce electrical use in university buildings in a variety of ways.

Tim Grabinski, the MidAmerican media contact for Iowa City, declined to comment specifically on the UI's contract with the company.

Curtailment strategies include increasing air-conditioning system temperatures, cycling air-conditioning systems on and off, or turned off for the duration of the curtailment, ventilation systems turned off, and/or non-essential lighting turned off, according to Facilities Management.

The university is typically warned the day before a curtailment period and notified again the day of between 9:30 and 10 a.m.

The actual curtailment period begins between 1 and 2 p.m. and lasts for six hours.

"Building coordinators and occupants of affected buildings will be notified via email," said Wendy Moorehead, the strategic communications manager for Facilities and Management. "There will also be an alert on the Facilities Management home page."

A variety of UI buildings are affected by the curtailment, including Adler Journalism Building, the Theater Building, Pomerantz Center, and the Blank Honors Center, among others.

Buildings that do not receive power from the UI Power Plant are not affected by the curtailment.

When a curtailment period is put into effect, every participating university building has designated people — usually a mechanic — to make sure all the necessary energy-saving strategies are implemented.

However, Mowery said there is also a master control center to monitor each building's curtailment and enact any curtailment strategies at the push of a button.

Liz Christiansen, the UI sustainability director, is in favor of the program even though it is separate from the university's sustainability platform.

"It is always good to be aware of conserving energy," she said.

Though the curtailment periods can make it noticeably stuffy in some buildings, UI junior Naum Zaprudsky said he noticed no change while working in the Pappajohn Business Building, a building that participates in all curtailment periods.

"There was nothing noticeable about the energy-conservation routine on Thursday [June 28]," he wrote in an email. "The temperature and ventilation in the building was sufficient enough to follow my regular work regimen. I did not notice any of the lights turned off."

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