University adapts to energy price hike

With oil and gas prices soaring, Yale officials are reworking the University’s energy policies in an attempt to keep finances in the black without leaving students in the dark.

By the first day of class, Yale had already expended the contingency reserve funding that was earmarked for energy inflation when the fiscal year began on July 1. In concert with plans to increase campus sustainability, finance and facilities managers sent Yale President Richard Levin an outline of new initiatives designed to reduce energy consumption and stabilize energy costs late last week.

Levin declined to comment on specifics of the energy plans, but said he prioritizes conservation over immediate budget concerns.

“We are of course concerned to reduce our energy consumption,” Levin said. “We’re interested in doing that in the long term, regardless of the short term economy’s involvement.”

Though Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said budget concerns are familiar ground, the new initiatives will also push for higher environmental standards. Another piece of the reforms will be a stricter adherence to sustainability policies at the state, national and international levels, Provost Andrew Hamilton said. Hamilton cited certification with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system established by the U.S. Green Building Council as one such benchmark, while Pepper said the Kyoto Protocols were a target.

This aspect of the reforms also addresses spiraling fuel costs, but sustainability director Julie Newman said environmental concerns remain a large-scale focus rather than a response to short-term budget stress.

“It’s not driven solely by fuel prices,” Newman said. “It’s something we want to respond to, of course, but this is not a reactionary process.”

Newman said committees that formed last year to evaluate Yale’s energy, transportation, waste management and marketing policies have completed their initial systems analyses and will recommend changes once they begin meeting again later this fall.

With Levin’s response delayed by Yale’s focus on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, other officials left policy details sketchy, but said they expect that new conservation education campaigns and tighter controls on energy consumption will be included in the University’s effort to maintain its narrowly balanced budget.

“We’re working on conserving energy wherever we can,” Pepper said. “If students and staff can help make sure that happens, it’ll add up.”

Beyond Yale, other top universities are confronting similar energy costs, but have not announced similar reforms. Harvard spokesman Joe Wrinn said rising fuel prices are a concern but have not prompted significant policy changes, while long term energy contracts and on-campus cogeneration plants have helped universities like Stanford avoid significant inflation.

“We are seeing some increases, but at the moment we’re in a relatively favorable position compared to the retail market,” Tim Warner, Stanford’s vice provost for budget affairs, said, noting that his university’s cogeneration contract with a subsidiary of General Electric keep basic energy costs at a fixed level.

Pepper said he is confident that Yale will be able to rebound from its increased energy expenditures before the next year’s budget is drafted.

The Yale power plant near Swing Space lights up New Haven at night. The University is currently working to combat rising oil and gas prices.
Jie Zhou
The Yale power plant near Swing Space lights up New Haven at night. The University is currently working to combat rising oil and gas prices.

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