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 2 of a series dedicated to telling the UNM sustainability and conservation story.

The early UNM Energy Conservation Program proved its value between 1979 and 1985, through reducing energy and resource consumption, avoiding costs, and awarded the National Award Program for Energy Innovation. Despite its success, the program officially ended in 1985.  Despite the lack of funding and support  needed for its continuation, there were many people still committed to moving forward in conservation and stewardship and utilizing the state’s resources in the most efficient way possible.

One person who understood this concept was then Vice President for Business and Finance at UNM David L. McKinney. He was the key decision maker for moving forward in a large utility infrastructure upgrade that would prove to save the University millions of dollars due to lowered utility costs. Because of Kinney’s support, the University was able to install the newest technology in cogeneration utilities in 1988. 

According to the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, cogeneration “is most commonly done in large electricity plants, where waste heat is captured and used for heating or cooling, thereby, increasing the efficiency of the plant to greater than 90% (a typical power plant has a 35% efficiency rate).”  Cogeneration is the simultaneous generation of heat and electricity from a single fuel source, therefore this new system produced UNM’s needed energy in the most efficient way possible.

Ford Utilities Center on the UNM campus.

This first cogeneration unit installed at the Ford Utilities Center was a necessity because there was a boom in construction at the University beginning in 1985 through the 1990s. Large buildings such as, Dane Smith Hall, were constructed, adding much needed classroom space, but requiring more energy from UNM’s district energy system. Other examples, are the Electrical and Computer Engineering (EECE) building built in 1985, Anderson School of Management and Social Sciences buildings in 1987, the Health Sciences and Services Building (HSSB) in 1988, Student Residence Center (SRC) and the Childcare Center buildings built in 1991, the new bookstore on Central built in 1996, and the Cancer Research Facility (CRF) in 1997. 

Because of this boom, in 1999, an electrical utility sub-station was built on the North Campus. It off-set the energy draw on the aging electrical utilities system on the plant in the Ford Utilities Center building; the infrastructure was old and was soon not going to produce enough power to keep up with the growing campus.

“The administration recognized that the utility infrastructure was old, and that we couldn’t keep up with the academic growth plan without a long-term utility plan.  We were getting to the point where we couldn’t build any more buildings because of the deteriorating utilities,” said Larry Schuster, lead utilities engineer.

The need for a long-term utility plan led to the formation of Lobo Energy, Inc., a non-profit , Regent-owned corporation, which changed the energy management at the University when it was formed in 1998.  In 1999, this organization began to work closely with the highest levels of the University administration to organize and manage the utility master plan that was so greatly needed at the time. 

“Lobo Energy was instrumental in creating a genuine business plan for the utilities at the University,” said Schuster. 

The UNM Bookstore.

Lobo Energy, Inc. became the writer and manager of the utility master plan, collaborating closely with the Physical Plant Department’s (PPD) engineers, particularly with the PPD Engineering and Energy Services division.  Once the plan was written it was completed in phases over the course of five years.

“We had to look at the bigger picture.  What would save us money over time?” said Schuster.  “It’s not about what will save us money right here and now, but how can we use the money in the most efficient way possible over the long term, fulfilling our immediate needs, but looking to the future for cost saving opportunities.”

Many large utility upgrades were needed, and the projected cost would be close to $60 million.  Energy efficiency was at the forefront of everyone’s mind when implementing the plan.  The University used institutional bonds to fund this massive project.  The $60 million would be used to install two new boilers and a new gas turbine at Ford Utilities and expand the distribution network of the district energy system by installing 30-inch pipe all over campus to improve the chilled water distribution more efficiently.  Building modifications were needed because of the new piping underground.  Every building needed to be re-lamped with more efficient lighting and controls upgrades.   Every decision that was made had energy conservation and efficiency at the forefront.

“This was a huge undertaking, but a much needed one for the future of UNM’s utility infrastructure.” said Jeff Zumwalt, director of UNM Utilities. 

Zumwalt said that one of the main challenges with this project was providing utilities to every building while massive upgrades were taking place to the piping, turbines and boilers.  This renovation took several years, ending in 2005.  But, because of the University’s investment in utility upgrades, building modifications and controls upgrades, the stage was set for the next decade of UNM’s conservation efforts.