Over the decades, the University of New Mexico has been a pioneer in sustainability and conservation, saving the finite resources of the earth, and ultimately utilizing tax payer dollars in the most efficient way possible. This has been accomplished through more than 40 years of conscientious energy savings programs and diligent sustainability awareness from the UNM community. This is part 3 of a series dedicated to telling the UNM sustainability and conservation story.

During the period between 1999 and 2005, the Physical Plant Department (PPD) had already begun investigating ways to draw less energy on the utility system as part of their unofficial energy conservation program. One of the problems they found was that some of the older buildings didn’t have accurate metering systems in order to capture and track the amount of energy being used at any given time. In 1999, Larry Schuster, PPD utilities engineer, headed the project of utilizing CIMMS (Comprehensive Integrated Metering and Monitoring System) hardware and software in more than 25 buildings. This allowed engineers to monitor the meters learning valuable things about these buildings’ energy usage including: when energy use spiked, when there was a lull in use, and opportunities for energy conservation.

A screen shot of Automated Logic Controls (ALC), the program used by PPD Engineering and Energy Services to monitor energy usage in buildings.
An illustration showing how the air-handlers function.

In 2003, PPD’s Engineering and Energy Services division was primarily focused on establishing an official energy conservation program. Bob Notary, associate director, PPD Engineering and Energy Services, proposed the reintroduction of a UNM Energy Conservation Program, through the upgrades of building controls of air handlers and monitoring systems, dedicating staff primarily to think about how to improve the campus technology while reducing the overall campus energy consumption.

“Since 2003, our division has upgraded monitoring systems in about half of all buildings on campus allowing us to have direct control over the heating and cooling systems in the buildings,” Notary said. “The improvement has allowed us to reduce our energy use and avoid about $5 – 6 million of energy costs since."   

In 2006, the U.S. government enacted the Green Building Mandate, which stated that all public buildings must be constructed according to LEED certification standards for environmental performance. Part of this mandate meant that all PPD engineers be trained and certified in LEED because they are instrumental in the design phase of building construction and commissioning. Commissioning is important because the engineers make sure that the LEED requirements and standards are built-in to the designs of new buildings, ensuring that UNM complies with all building and construction LEED requirements.

The Energy Conservation Program was in full swing at PPD, with many initiatives working to reduce the University’s energy use. One primary example is the birth of the Winter Setback Program. During the annual winter break when the campus was empty, Engineering and Energy Services “set-back” the temperatures in the non-essential buildings during this two week period, saving significant amounts of energy and money. These conservation programs were thriving, but with the hiring of UNM’s President David J. Schmidly in June of 2007, the movement would be energized and accelerated by many different decisions and turns of events.

Almost immediately, Schmidly began supporting many sustainable initiatives on campus.

“My academic background is in zoology and environmental biology, and I’ve always been interested in the environment and sustainability,” Schmidly said. “I wrote one of the early academic papers on sustainable development in the early ‘90s.”

Schmidly said that during his interview process at UNM, he was impressed with all that he heard about the campus culture embracing sustainability and energy conservation. Academic programs, such as Sustainability Studies, were being born and curriculum was being established to meet the needs and interest of the students with regard to a “green” education. Schmidly felt that the stage was set and the interest was already there to move forward with conservation efforts.

“The blending of student interest on campus, academic interest with regard to the faculty, and Mary Vosevich, the director of the Physical Plant, was very cooperative and supportive. This cooperation was essential if we were going to make progress,” he said.

One of the first efforts to accelerate the UNM Energy Conservation Program occurred when Lobo Energy, Inc. hired an energy conservation consultant company in August of 2007. President Schmidly supported this venture because of the guaranteed energy savings, and it supported his commitment to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment signed by him in June of 2007. 

Lobo Energy, Inc. hired six Energy Conservation Specialists in 2008, under the direction of Schuster, then manager of Lobo Energy, Inc., whose primary responsibility was to reduce energy usage on campus. Schuster said the main focus for the Energy Conservation Specialists at Lobo Energy, Inc. was to approach energy conservation through behavior modification of the campus community. 

“They had an understanding of how things were done inside the University, and they were able to get it done because they could focus 100 percent of their attention on changing habits, compiling building schedules, and modifying building control settings,” said Schuster. 

The Energy Conservation Specialists worked tirelessly to alter the UNM community’s thinking about what they could do to help the effort. They found that most people were open to turning off the lights when not in use, and felt that the support from the President made their job much easier.

“Because President Schmidly was encouraging the campus to work with us, we had tremendous support from the staff at all levels of the University. Especially when suggestions were made and initiatives enacted that would save energy,” said Jason Strauss, manager of energy conservation at Lobo Energy, Inc.

This is when the culture at UNM began to change to a more sustainable and energy conscious community.