Morrison Residence Hall given green honor

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Maura Beard, spokeswoman for Energy Star, presents Chris Martin, director of UNC energy management, with a present for members of Watt-Busters, a group of UNC students competing. Morrison won a national efficiency contest.

UNC is months away from taking on N.C. State University inside the Dean Dome. But on the asphalt court outside Morrison Residence Hall on Tuesday, it was OK to be a loser.

Facing an elaborate stage featuring plasma screen televisions, the crowd of more than 100 cheered as Bob Harper of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” announced via video that the south campus dormitory had lost the largest percentage of energy consumption in the Environmental Protection Agency’s inaugural Energy Star National Building Competition.

The residence hall triumphed against 13 finalists including hotels, shopping malls and an N.C. State University dormitory.

“This is one of the very few times that I can say that I’m really happy to be a bigger loser than N.C. State’s Wolfpack,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney, to a laughing crowd.

“This is something that needs to be a part of our future and a part of our culture,” he added, noting the University’s need to continue sustainability efforts.

In addition to winning the competition, the residence hall received an Energy Star rating by the EPA, placing it in the company of 58 dorms nationwide.

The EPA gives the Energy Star ratings to buildings that score in the top 25 percent nationally, according to its energy guidelines. The EPA says those buildings generally cost 50 cents less per square foot to operate than the average building.

Morrison cut energy consumption by 36 percent in a year, preventing 733 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and cutting $250,000 in energy bills.

Chris Martin, director of energy management for UNC, spearheaded the Watt-Busters, the team that transformed Morrison into an energy-saver.

He said the team focused on four points: a heating and cooling system tune-up, a solar-powered water heating system, lighting upgrades and an awareness campaign.

“What we’ve done here is learn a lot that we can apply as we move through the rest of campus,” he said, upon accepting the award.

Martin said energy consumption improvements were made in more than 100 campus buildings for a total savings of $3.9 million last year alone, but he doesn’t plan on stopping there.

By the end of the year, Martin expects to have made improvements on all UNC buildings.

“The average cost for improvements was $7,000 for each building and the average annual savings was over $33,000 for each building, which equates to a savings of about two and a half months of energy bills per building.”

Morrison’s solar panels cost $186,000, financed by a student fee and a grant from the state’s energy office. The dorm opened in 2007 after renovations.

Martin stressed that continued success would be largely dependent on the University community.

“This work is like planting grass. We have to remain diligent and keep mowing the grass to keep the efficiencies we’ve achieved,” he said.

Stephanie Tolar, a freshman environmental science and math double major and Morrison resident, works with the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee. The committee was created by a student referendum in 2003 and manages a fund created by a $4 per semester student fee. It funded the Morrison project and other campus green initiatives.

She said working to make Morrison more environmentally friendly was a collaborative effort.

“It’s a very big thing around the dorm, there are signs and flyers up everywhere,” she said. “Everyone wants to do their part.”

Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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