Race is On to Conserve Energy

Students are eagerly awaiting the final results of Oberlin’s first annual Spring Energy Challenge. The two-week event, which began on April 15 and ended on Monday, was a competition among dorms and co-ops in an effort to decrease energy consumption on campus. Results are expected early next week.
Throughout the contest, energy use was monitored by the Office of Facilities and compared to normal usage rates. The residence with the largest percentage energy decrease will be awarded an ice cream party and a DVD player.

(photo by Steve Freed)

The contest was conceived and organized by the Oberlin Sierra Student Coalition in conjunction with Residential Life and Services. It is part of a larger movement on campus to increase energy awareness. Other similar projects include last February’s Climate Change Symposium organized by the environmental studies department and Project 2020, a proposal to bring Oberlin to “climate neutrality” by the year 2020. 
Tami Blumenfield (OC ’00) and sophomore Larissa Stuart helped organize the event. Blumenfield, who gradutated in December, was inspired by the Climate Change Symposium and wanted to increase awareness about the amount of natural resources consumed, as well as to promote ways that could reduce present rates.
“We designed this project with non-environmental studies majors in mind,” Blumenfield said. “We wanted to reach out to the entire community.”
In an effort to publicize the contest and provide methods in which to reduce consumption, the SSC advertised energy-saving kits, available for sale at Ben Franklin and Watson’s. The kits include, among other things, a fluorescent light bulb, a low-flow shower head and a water heater insulation blanket, all intended to reduce energy costs as well as overall resource consumption. 
The SSC also recruited students in every residence hall to serve as coordinators in order to provide information to students and help their dorm or co-op achieve victory in the contest. Blumenfield said this effort was relatively successful although she felt that the level of publicity was not the same in every residence. In order to help make up for these inconsistencies, a large informational display was placed in A-level of Mudd. 
The SSC arranged with Res Life to lower residence hall temperatures by two degrees from March 19 to April 15. Blumenfield presented the proposal to Residential Life director Kim LaFond. “I thought it was a good idea but was concerned that people would be cold,” LaFond said. Ultimately the proposal was approved, and LaFond was pleased to discover that there were no complaints. 
The temperature drop,“makes us realize that we can do some energy savings. It gave us an opportunity to see if we could make some adjustments,” LaFond said, adding that the temporary change offered a “small window” that could lead to long-term adjustments. 
Blumenfield also met with Eric McMillion, associate director of facilities and operations, in order to discuss ways in which to implement more efficient energy use in residence halls. “He hadn’t made this a priority but was interested once it was suggested,” Blumenfield said. 
Along with temporarily lowering room temperatures, McMillion also agreed to put on an efficient showerhead in one bathroom and florescent lights in one lounge in campus residence halls, to test their effects.

As a next step, Blumenfield and the SSC hope to organize a coalition of students and landlords who would meet over the summer to deal with issues of insulation and energy loss in off-campus housing, with the hope of initiating some fundamental structural changes. The group hopes to receive community building grants and loans from development organizations in order to further their cause.
Blumenfield said the goal is to initiate “pragmatic changes” based on common sense. “We want to increase efficiency without affecting lifestyle.”


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