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UNC-system leaders talk energy costs

Students, faculty and leaders from colleges across the state came together last week to further discussions on energy conservation — with an ultimate goal of saving $1 billion in energy avoidance costs in mind.

Representatives from the 16 UNC-system schools and five private colleges in the state convened at the Appalachian Energy Summit for the second consecutive year. Attendees shared energy conservation goals and discussed the past year’s successes.

At the inaugural summit last year, each school pledged to reduce energy costs over the next 20 years to collectively save $1 billion in that time. UNC-system President Tom Ross and Gov. Pat McCrory also attended the summit to show their support.

“President Tom Ross was a big proponent of doing this,” said Phil Barner, UNC’s director of energy services.

Barner attended this year’s event and said there was a variety of workshops available to participants, including those centered around regulatory finance and energy generation and green building construction, as well as workshops geared toward students.

Chris Martin, UNC’s director of energy management, said he participated in a focus group that explored ways to engage the community college system in preparing technicians to do energy-efficient work. He said his group also worked on developing ways to offer energy conservation training to facility managers across the schools.

“Our group was looking at how to engage each other better and share expertise amongst ourselves,” he said.

Victoria Petermann, a junior and member of Beyond Coal, attended the inaugural summit last year. She said was impressed with the efforts that schools in the state are making to reduce energy consumption.

“We wanted to see how we could become part of the conversation as students,” she said.

“I ended up being really impressed and excited about the fact that our universities are really getting on board with this now.”

Martin said one thing UNC is doing this year to contribute to the summit’s chief savings goal is utilizing an N.C. House of Representatives bill.

He said the bill allows the University to keep its savings in energy avoidance costs on campus, under the condition that at least 60 percent of the funds goes to energy conservation projects the following year. Before the bill was passed, savings from energy avoidance costs went back to the state.

Martin said UNC administrators decided to devote the entirety of the leftover funds — rather than just the required 60 percent — to campus conservation projects.

“So what that means for us … is about $1.6 million in projects that have significant (reduction of) energy consumption impacts,” he said.

“So it’s not a trivial amount of money in our case.”

Jessica O’Hara, UNC’s energy analyst, said it’s important for the University to be a leader in conservation projects.

“UNC is the one everybody looks to for leadership — we’re one of the top schools.

“So for us to be able to set an example and to be able to show, ‘Hey, look what we’re doing at our University,’ and to share those with other schools when we go to these summits is awesome because that lets them see, ‘Hey, we could be doing this.’”

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