Pinching pennies and power

Pinching pennies and power McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 19, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 11
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > February 19, 2004 > Pinching pennies and power

Pinching pennies and power

We often hear that there's no incentive to conserve energy, but the occupants of three McGill buildings proved that just ain't so. During Energy Conservation Week, held during the last week of January, the Brown and Shatner buildings and the Allan Memorial Institute were monitored for one day. The occupants were informed on posters and by the building managers of the energy audit, but were not given any specific tips on energy conservation, says Environment Officer Kathleen Ng.

"We just said, 'We are watching you,'" says Ng, who didn't think it necessary to give the usual tips, like turning down thermostats and turning off lights and electrical devices at the end of the day. "People know what to do. We're just lax about it."

The result: a 8.2 percent decrease in the use of steam (for heating) and a 10 percent decrease in the use of Hydro electricity. Over one year, that would amount to $51,200 in saved energy costs, says Ng. Extrapolating those figures to include the 20 major buildings on the downtown campus, the savings of $17,000 per year per building would become a whopping $340,000 per year — enough for a few new books and professors!

Could it happen? Well, according to a survey Ng and student volunteers conducted during Energy Conservation Week, the willingness is there — at least among the 144 respondents, the majority of whom were students and female. Most indicated that they would be willing to pay more for energy conservation and most were willing to do more and learn more for the cause. A vast majority — 109 out of 144 — strongly agreed that we are not doing enough to conserve.

Still, 40 out of 144 strongly agreed with the statement, "Many people waste energy, so my efforts to save energy are futile." Ng found this "kind of discouraging." It may be the sense of "What's the point in making an effort? I don't pay the electricity in these buildings and anyway, electricity is cheap, right?" That's behind the carelessness found by security agents as they checked all campus buildings during that same week.

Among the infractions reported on the downtown campus were the leaving on of lights, computer monitors, coffee machines and photocopy machines. "In the Trottier Building, all the floor lights were left on!" exclaimed Ng, who was, nevertheless, pleased to report that on several nights that week, while returning home from her office in Chancellor Day Hall, many of the buildings were completely black. "The campus was dark except for the library."

Included under the rubric of energy conservation duties is the reporting of broken doors or windows, such as the window found broken in the greenhouse. "It's important to report all broken stuff," says Ng, "so that repairs are made hastily and energy not wasted." Students generally don't report, as Ng found out in the survey, and that was largely because they didn't know where to call.

On the Macdonald Campus, there were fewer infractions —"We're more environmentally minded out here," joked Pat Blue, Mac's manager of campus security. Still, security agents found that classroom lights were frequently left on, as were lights in Laird Hall, and there were a few instances of people forgetting to turn off stoves. By the Friday of Energy Conservation Week, however, there was little to check off on the list of infractions prepared by Ng, noted Randy Weston, security supervisor.

One building at Mac where no lights were left on after hours was the Facilities Management Building. Power House supervisor Michel Gauthier "made them [his staff] pay attention." Try as he might to see a reduction in energy use on Mac's energy audit, it was to no avail. Either due to the extreme cold or inadequate communications with the occupants — students and staff — of Mac's building, "there wasn't much difference" in energy use between Thursday and the day before.

That will likely be different at the next Energy Awareness Week. Ng has decided to hold it during the first week of November, during National Energy Conservation Week, and at that time of year when we're likely to be turning on the heat. She's happy with what was accomplished for McGill's first such week but concedes that the extremely cold weather likely kept many people from leaving their buildings to come to the McConnell Engineering Building where the information kiosks, questionnaires and tours of the Power House were based. "I think the people who passed by did find it interesting and one person commented on the questionnaire that she thought that the promotion should be going on all year!"

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