5Cs Power Down

After two weeks of a movement attempting to conserve energy and increase awareness of energy usage, the 5Cs are now entering the final week of the 2013 Power Down Challenge. 

During the three-week contest, residence halls across the five campuses are competing to reduce energy consumption by the greatest percentage. Baseline measurements from each school were taken during the month before the challenge began.

This is the first year all five campuses are participating in the contest. In addition to competing with each other, the schools are registered in the nationwide Campus Conservation Nationals program, through which the 5Cs compete with over 200 schools, amounting to 1,091 buildings.

“The goal of Power Down is to create sustainable habits, like unplugging something, taking a shorter shower, little steps that ultimately mean a lot,” said Leah Hochler SC ’14, who is in charge of the competition at Scripps College.

The winning school in the 5C intercollegiate competition will receive the papier-mâché Green Lamp, the trophy that has been traveling between the colleges since 2006 and is currently housed at Pomona, the last winner of Power Down. Each of the 5Cs offer prizes for their respective residence hall that powers down the most. Claremont McKenna College will offer a glow-in-the-dark beer pong table; Pitzer College will offer $500 for a sustainability project; Scripps will fund a $200 sustainability project, a Yogurtland Party, and a raffle for a $25 Trader Joe’s gift card; Pomona’s rewards include a Some Crust cookie party; Harvey Mudd College’s is currently keeping their prize secret.

As students across the schools examine their own energy consumption habits, they also begin scrutinizing energy consumption in areas students cannot control, such as lighting in buildings.

“We need to reduce our lighting use here. We need to do a lighting audit of the entire campus and get our control systems working so that there are more motion sensors,” said Ginny Routhe, Sustainability Coordinator at Pomona’s Sustainability Integration Office (SIO).  “Our current lighting use is off the charts.”

Another concern the SIO plans to address is the air conditioning and heating systems.

“We’re putting together a set-point policy for the controls on campus, which is a guideline of the minimum and the maximum in terms of heating and cooling that we set our controls at,” Routhe said. A “one- to two-degree difference can change about $50,000 worth of electricity at Pomona.”

A $50,000 decrease in utility costs would amount to a 1.6 percent decrease in Pomona’s utility costs, which in total amounts to about $3.1 million each year.  

Southern California Edison power company collectively charges the 5Cs the same rate for electricity, so sustainability efforts have increased utility costs as well, as seen in the implementation of solar panels in the newly constructed Pomona Hall and Sontag Hall. The solar panels, which made 123 kilowatts of energy per day during the course of the previous Power Down Challenge, have increased costs for Pomona, according to Julia Pitkin PO ’13, a co-leader of Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility.

“The more energy you use on the rate, the cheaper it is per unit of energy. If we do something like put in solar panels, and all of a sudden we’re using less energy, then the price per unit of energy goes up across all of the 5Cs,” Pitkin said. 

According to Pitkin the value of the solar panels overrides any of the costs.

“We actually don’t save any money from installing solar panels or renewables, but the reason that we do it is because Pomona finds it so important. The carbon impact is very significant,” she said.

In terms of on-campus programs at CMC, the college partakes in landscaping initiatives, such as its self-mulching lawn mowers and community gardens. Director of Facilities and Campus Services Brian Worley wrote in an e-mail to TSL that future endeavors include universal LED pole lighting, a central chiller plant for mid-quad and the Roberts Pavilion, and improvements in its irrigation use. 

Given its increase in campus square footage, Worley says CMC is doing “reasonably well” when it comes to sustainability. According to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, the college emitted 11,104 metric tons of carbon dioxide from July 2011 to July 2012, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Equivalencies Calculator, is the equivalent of consuming 1,244,843 gallons of gasoline.

At Scripps, President Lori Bettison-Varga established a sustainability committee in 2010 and replaced “spray” systems with “drip” systems in many of the gardens. Each residence hall has a senator who is in charge of sustainability initiatives. The college is also looking to have its next residence hall LEED-certified.

According to Vice President of Business Affairs and Treasurer Joanne Coville, Scripps is currently spending $1,225,000 on energy usage and waste disposal, which accounts for 2.15 percent of the college’s total expenses.

At Pitzer, examples of sustainable initiatives are the Green Bike Program, a student-run organization that revamps old bicycles, and the Pitzer Permaculture Club, which seeks to convert on-campus space into permaculture gardens.

Newly appointed Pitzer Sustainability Coordinator Jesse Meisler-Abramson wrote in an e-mail to TSL that Pitzer also seeks to improve its Re.Room program, which collects and reuses salvageable goods left behind by Pitzer students at the end of the year. 

According to Abramson, Pitzer decreased its electric usage by nearly 115,000 kilowatt-hours between 2007 and 2011, which equates to 9,096 gallons of gasoline. Currently, Pitzer’s energy usage and waste disposal accounts for 1.39 percent of the college’s total expenses.

HMC, the current front-runner in the Power Down Challenge, was unable to report its energy usage as it is currently switching its meter system to Smart Meters, according to HMC Facilities Engineer Troy Hansgen.

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