In anticipation of another cold Maine winter, the College has ratcheted up its efforts to provide campus buildings with heat from a variety of inexpensive, low-impact energy sources.

Afforded the flexibility of a heating plant that can burn two kinds of fuel?natural gas and No. 2 fuel oil?the College has already purchased its heating energy for the months of November and December.

According to Director of Finance and Campus Services Del Wilson, "For the central heating plant, we have 'locked-in' natural gas pricing for November and December and intend to burn natural gas during those months."

Wilson was not able to release actual contract costs because they are considered "proprietary information to ensure competitive pricing." However, he added that the College was "able to achieve a good pricing that is within our budget."

According to Director of Facilities Operations and Maintenance Ted Stam, natural gas is cleaner and more economical to burn.

"Not only is natural gas more environmentally sound [than No. 2 heating oil], but right now, it also costs less," said Stam.

Since 2005, the College has worked closely with Competitive Energy Services, an energy consultant with offices in Portland, to determine what kinds of fuel to purchase. As crude oil prices continue to soar (as of Wednesday, crude oil was more than $96 a barrel), the College is likely to purchase nearly all of its fuel this winter through Sprague Energy Corporation, Bowdoin's natural gas supplier.

Andy Price, Senior Energy Analyst at Competitive Energy Services, estimates the price of natural gas to be roughly $1.40 a gallon, while the price of No. 2 heating oil currently hovers between $2.50 and $2.60 a gallon.

"Since crude oil is a global commodity, it is affected by geopolitical concerns. But since natural gas operates in the continental market, with nearly all of it coming from the U.S. and Canada, it doesn't react to the same conditions," said Price.

Last year, the College burned only natural gas, according to Engineer in Charge Chuck Blier.

"We burned about 780,000 gallons [of heating fuel] last year?all of it was natural gas," said Blier.

But Blier underscored the general volatility of the energy market, noting that during the winter of 2005, the College burned a considerable amount of No. 2 heating oil.

"[In 2005] when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the hurricane affected natural gas prices even up here," said Blier. "Natural gas prices rose dramatically, so we ended up burning more than 150,000 gallons of No. 2 heating oil that winter."

Stam echoed Blier's sentiment, saying that an unpredictable energy market necessitates flexibility in planning for the future.

"If there are problems in Iraq, a fire in a pipeline somewhere, or just general distribution problems, then we can navigate around them," said Stam.

This year, the College has budgeted $1.99 million for heating costs, slightly more than a third of the $5.574 million annual utility budget.

Stam said that while the heating budget has increased from last year, he expects the amount of fuel used by the College to decrease.

"I would expect the amount of fuel [used this winter] to decrease, but not necessarily the cost," he said.

The College takes into account a number of different factors when estimating heating costs.

"We anticipate the costs of heating by the amount of square footage we have to heat, how much construction is going on around campus, and the price of fuel, among other factors," said Stam.

But while the College may not be able to predict exactly how much it will spend on heating this winter, recently completed construction has increased heating efficiency in a number of different buildings across campus.

Renovations to six first-year dormitories, according to Stam, have made the buildings more efficient and will reduce heating costs.

"The first-year dormitories are much more efficient than the old ones," he said. In addition to installing new windows and increasing insulation on the roofs of the buildings, Stam said that a conversion "from direct steam to steam to hot water heating and the installation of more efficient heating controls" will further reduce the amount of fuel required to heat each of the six renovated buildings.

Stam also pointed out that a renovated 30 College St.?now the campus Multicultural Center?is less of an energy liability.

"30 [College St.] used to be poorly insulated, with bad windows. This summer, when we renovated it, we improved the insulation and purchased new storm windows," he said.

Geothermal technology utilized in other buildings across campus?Osher Hall and West Hall, the Studzinski Recital Hall, and, most recently, the newly renovated Walker Art Building?will further reduce energy costs.

"Compared to traditional gas or oil heating systems, the annual energy costs for a geothermal system are more than 20 percent lower," said Wilson.

Geothermal technology uses natural heat within the earth to heat and cool buildings.

B-20 biofuel, made from "natural, renewable, agricultural resources," according to Wilson, is also being used to heat three campus buildings: 30 College St., Ham House, and Quinby House.

"While B-20 biofuel has been slightly more expensive on average than regular heating oil in the past, we are currently purchasing biofuel at a price that is competitive with regular heating oil," Wilson added.