Penn’s hard look at its energy use, which began last summer, is now reaping praise from external agencies.

Associate Vice President of Facilities Operations Barry Hilts said the school has garnered recognition for its approach to energy conservation from governmental offices like Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Just recently Penn became the single largest retail purchaser of wind energy in the nation, making that energy source 5 percent of its total power consumption. This achievement earned Penn a Green Power Award from Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future. Even though the purchase from Exelon-Community Energy Wind Farm in Somerset County is more expensive than what the school normally spends on energy, Hilts said it is consistent with the school’s take on “green energy.”

“It isn’t about the dollars but the positive impact that we have on the environment that we live in,” said Hilts.

A significant part of the school’s energy outlook is educating the Penn community. “We want to increase people’s awareness that your actions and your activities at work do make a difference,” said Hilts.

Penn staffers who opted for natural lighting, raised their thermostats this past summer and turned off computers at the end of the day helped the school lower peak demand for power to 57 megawatts, an 18 percent reduction from last year. The emphasis on peak consumption is important because Penn’s energy rate for the entire year is based on the highest 30-minute demand period from May 10 to Sept. 9.

While the school has saved more than $2 million because of reduced energy consumption, Hilts said these energy savings go beyond dollar signs. For every kilowatt not consumed, the community has reduced carbon dioxide emissions and improved the quality of air. These efforts also helped conserve various natural resources and deal with environmental problems like acid rain.

Hilts said Penn’s personal energy conservation approach is basically one of “where you can and when you can.”

“Remember when your mom and dad yelled at you for leaving the lights on? Well, that’s what we’re doing,” said Hilts. “People shouldn’t take [things] for granted. Their work practices do have an impact.”

This winter season, the school is once again advocating personal conservation. And like last summer, it is taking a look at the inefficiency of its facilities. By taking care of drafts around windows and doors, promoting energy reduction projects, such as putting in more energy efficient fixtures and installing motion detectors, and resolving steam leaks, Penn hopes to continue its energy savings. And while the school will be looking at the thermostat readings of various buildings, Hilts said members of the Penn community need not worry. “We’re not the thermostat police,” he said.

Air quality assurance is also top on Hilts’ list. “None [of the conservation measures] will ever compromise the air quality of our buildings,” he said. The school is sensitive to the needs of certain facilities, such as those involving patient care and research.

“We try to do it so that it’s painless to all of the occupants,” said Hilts.

Four ways to help conserve energy:

- Lower thermostat settings. The recommended temperatures are 68 degrees for occupied settings and 65 degrees for unoccupied spaces.

- Shut off lights and equipment, such as computers and printers, at the end of each day.

- Notify Facilities Services of excessive drafts around windows and doors.

- Close windows and doors to prevent cold air from coming in.

Originally published on November 29, 2001