"crisis" rustles the Bowdoin Pines
JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
The rolling blackouts throughout California and the
high heating costs in the Northeast this year have once again put a spotlight
on the state of energy in our nation. The spotlight is hitting Bowdoin
College, too, as energy expenditures rise on campus with no certainty
of when oil prices will level to a more accommodating cost.
Partly as a result, the Trustees of the College have
decided to increase next year's tuition by five percent, compared to last
year's increase of four percent, raising further questions of just how
serious the energy situation is on campus.
Even with Bowdoin's annual budget of $90 million, only
$2.25 million is devoted to costs for utilities such as heating and electricity.
For the first time, utilities are running up a $300,000 deficit for the
fiscal year, and their budget is now approaching close to $2.5 million.
This unexpected deficit is the result of the primary
oil called "#6 fuel," which has risen in price from $20 per barrel last
year to a current $30 per barrel.
This fuel is a very thick oil that is first heated and
then burned in the Central Heating Plant to supply energy to academic
and many residential buildings.
It is purchased from Maine Power Op tions, a non-profit
electric co-op out of Augusta that supplies low-cost power to non-profit
organizations, colleges, and universities throughout Maine.
Currently, Bowdoin pays six to seven percent less for
its oil than it would otherwise pay if it did not purchase through Maine
But when the cost of #6 fuel increased by 50 percent
as it did this year, that single-digit discounted rate was not of much
Not only are members of the College's budget committee
concerned about the increase in the cost of the fuel, but the increase
in its consumption has also become a growing concern.
Rick Parkhurst, assistant director for Properties and
Budget Administration, said that because of recent major construction
and renovation projects, there are more buildings to heat than ever before.
In fact, over the past five years, the College has increased
its purchase of #6 fuel by 6.8 percent to cover the additional energy
demand for the extra buildings. Both the rising cost of oil and the increase
in consumption on campus have contributed to the budget deficit.
Gerald Boothby, associate vice president and director
of budgets and associate treasurer, said that regardless of the utility
budget deficit, tuition is not going to be affected, at least not because
of the high energy costs. It is not yet enough of a financial impact on
the College for that consideration to be made.
With the possibility of future utility deficits, natural
gas has been considered as a possible long-term substitute for #6 fuel
if the pattern keeps up. However, natural gas prices have also increased
dramatically-to the point where a comparable barrel of natural gas is
more than twice the price of #6 fuel, and natural gas is not as power-efficient
as the oil.
According to Parkhurst, natural gas provides 85 percent
of the power that #6 fuel offers, and even when natural gas was less expensive
than #6 fuel, the Administration still needed to purchase more natural
gas to compensate for its lower power return.
With #6 fuel, Parkhurst said, you get "the most bang
for your buck."
As a result, after consideration, the prospect of using
natural gas was easily dismissed.
Now, it is just a matter of waiting for prices to drop,
since the cost of energy is beyond the control of the Administration.
However, the College does have control over consumption.
With academic buildings such as Searles Hall fully illuminated
on a Saturday night, and with dorm lights left on all day, high energy
consumption is something that the College community has the ability to
Boothby said, "Energy conservation, especially in the
Northeast, needs to be aggressive, and not complacent." Otherwise, what
may have been seen as a brief moment in the energy spotlight could turn
into an energy crisis.