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IU Asks For Voluntary Blackouts to Reduce Cooling Need

As temperatures rose into the mid-90s Tuesday, Indiana University officials asked for electricity consumption to be curtailed.

Cooling Warning

Photo: Bill Shaw

A computer screen warns Indiana University is nearing its peak wattage during a hot afternoon trying to cool dozens of IU buildings.

As temperatures rose into the mid-90s Tuesday, Indiana University officials asked for electricity consumption to be curtailed.  But the reason for the voluntary blackouts is not cost savings.

As he sat in front of a computer screen monitoring how many gallons of cold water are coursing through pipes under the IU campus, Assistant Vice President for Facility Operations Hank Hewetson said asking for light switches and computers to be turned off is not, primarily, a way to save money.

“Although that’s a nice thing and is obviously very beneficial to the university, the real issue this time of year,” he said. “When we have such extreme temperatures and a high cooling load – what we really are trying to do is reduce the load in the buildings so we only have to curtail as much as absolutely necessary.”

Hewetson said if his primary concern was saving on the school’s monthly $1.6 million dollar electricity bill, he’d shut off power to large swaths of buildings.  Instead, because IU does not have enough capacity to cool the whole campus on hot days, Hewetson’s department is forced to prioritize departments when deciding which buildings get all the power they demand and which are left steamed.

“Obviously one of the most critical things is research and the general function of the University for teaching and research,” Hewetson said.  “That pares down to comfort cooling at the lower end of the scale.  And obviously when we have problems with meeting capacity, we’ll have to curtail comfort cooling in order to maintain the critical functions of the University.”

Hewetson said the only way to replenish the system’s efficiency is for evening temperatures to fall, which reduces demand.  IU officials have negotiated a deal with Duke Energy where the school attempts not to use more than 40-thousand kilowatts of power at a given time.  When the campus uses less than that, Hewetson says the amount paid per kilowatt is a little more than $0.02.  When the peak usage exceeds 40-thousand kilowatts, the bill jumps to $17 per kilowatt.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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  • hot

    they cut off power to the SLIS side of the Wells library at the drop of a hat–they've done so several times this summer, and inside temperatures have risen to as high as 92 degrees and they expect people to work in those conditions

    Thanks, IU, for yet more foresight and planning.

  • Anonymous

    This isn't “voluntary.” An area I have to work in reached an excess of 100 degrees last week and 90+ earlier this week. That is not “comfort cooling.” An environment such as that is hazardous and unproductive for students and staff. Also, when the A/C is off, people break out the fans. You can't walk six inches without seeing one going at full blast. How is that saving energy?

  • Anonymous

    I like how he used the words “comfort cooling”. At temperatures of over 90 degrees in an office, I don't think it's a matter of comfort anymore. Productivity plummets in such conditions, and technology begins failing, both of which are very expensive for whoever's footing the bill. Oh wait, that's IU, so what the hell.

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