Mild winter aids NIU budget woes

By Matt Michalek

An unusually mild winter has helped ease NIU’s budget woes.

According to NIU President John La Tourette, the school has saved $300,000 on energy costs thus far this winter, and $200,000 more could be saved before spring.

John Gardner, interim director of the Physical Plant, said the savings came from a number of things. First and foremost, he said, was the incredibly mild weather in December.

We were able to save a lot of money on heating costs because of this, Gardner said.

Another place where money was saved was a one-time rebate from Commonwealth Edison for an overcharge. Gas prices also were lower than expected, he said.

Eddie Williams, vice president of Finance and Planning, said he agreed the weather played a major part in the energy savings. “We have been blessed with a mild winter,” he said.

Because of the budget cuts, Williams said, NIU has been trying every way it can to generate funds to meet the budget reduction requirements. Reducing energy costs is a great way to make up some of these funds, he said.

NIU had $2.5 million of its budget cut last month.

In order to keep the budget cuts from gouging academic programs, Williams said NIU is trying to save as much money as possible from outside of academic areas.

Right now, he said, 40 percent of the budget cuts affect academic areas, while the other 60 percent comes from non-academic areas, such as energy savings.

“This is very good, considering academic areas comprise 75 percent of the overall budget,” Williams said.

Gardner said the best way to save on energy costs right now is to cut down on electricity costs. NIU pays approximately 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity used between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., he said.

In addition, there also is a demand charge based on the amount of electricity being used at any particular moment, Gardner said.

Considering all the buildings on campus, this adds up to a very large electric bill. Gardner said the easiest way to cut down this bill is to turn off unneeded lights.

“This has to be a collective effort of all students, staff and faculty,” he said. If the room is not in use, or if you are finished using it, turn off the lights, he said.

Because of the many different building designs on campus, it would not be feasible to turn down the thermostats a few degrees to save money, Gardner said.

Right now the thermostats in all NIU buildings are set at 68 degrees due to an old federal mandate, he said.

A number of factors would make turning the temperature down

unfeasible. The many different building designs on campus make it hard, if not impossible to set a temperature standard, he said.

In addition, most of the buildings on campus were built before energy conservation became a major concern. Because of this, he said, there is a lot of glass exposure in the wrong directions.

This leads to wildly fluctuating temperatures within a building. Buildings, such as Lowden Hall, will be very hot on one side, but on the other side be very cold, he said.

Overall, the more savings that can come from non-academic areas, Williams said, the better.