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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.  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.

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