A little ‘friggin’ rigging’ does the job

In the middle of the night, the last thing Brian O’Sullivan wants to do is get out of bed and drive into work to kick a steam pump to get it working again. But as Portland State’s electrical control systems technician, he decided it was up to him to figure out how to avoid wasting overtime and mileage at a time when saving money is paramount.

Between utility costs increasing nearly 20 percent this fiscal year and the budget decreasing over the last three years, Portland State’s facilities department has been forced to cut back on spending by working smart. It’s a tall order: the budget has been overspent by over $2 million these past three years.

Brian O’Sullivan used his resourcefulness to overcome what might have been an expensive, wasteful situation. The part needed to fix the faulty steam pump would take months to arrive, and in the meantime the machine room was flooding out each time it malfunctioned. O’Sullivan said all it needed was a swift kick, so he devised a mechanism out of some old parts that were lying around and a yellow hammer with a hole in the top.

His “friggin’ rigging,” as he affectionately calls it, would trigger the impulse five or six times a day, and functioned until the necessary parts came in.

“My job here is to do what needs to be done and do it in the most economical way possible,” O’Sullivan said.

Saving money and resources has been attacked on the large scale, too. The Legislature has approved funding for the Oregon University System to replace all of its heating and cooling systems, which should last for the next 20-25 years, and lower costs through increased efficiency. Replacement of these systems is long overdue.

“We have buildings on campus with the original systems intact, and they have been kept running because we have a very good maintenance crew – we use a lot of duct tape!” said Robyn Pierce, interim director of Facilities and Planning at PSU.

The University of Oregon and Portland State are looking at co-generation facilities, where excess power generated could be transferred to the other. “This would be primarily a one-way transfer, with PSU receiving the extra power that University of Oregon generates in its turbines,” said John MacLean, Financial Services manager at PSU.

PSU does have its own turbine, powered by diesel fuel, in the Fourth Avenue Building. Helping to save operating costs, the generator is leased out to Portland General Electric as a backup. “It’s a good deal for us, because we keep the backup capacity in an emergency, but we don’t have to pay to maintain it,” MacLean said.

PGE uses the electricity if there is a power surge, or a particularly high draw on their sources. PSU reserves the rights to use it alone if there is a complete power outage, however, because the generator yields enough power to keep the building running on its own as long as there is diesel to fuel it. The Fourth Avenue Building houses the campus’ new data center, a particular priority in an outage.

SELP (State Environmental Leadership Program) loans have allowed for improvements of existing buildings, such as the Art Building, where a “free” cooling system has been installed.

“On a nice cool day, instead of using chillers, we draw air from the outside. We call it ‘free’ because it’s essentially free other than the fan to move the air,” said Mark Fujii, mechanical engineer for Facilities.

“Part of the difficulty in accepting loans from SELP is that it puts us more in debt. In trying to decrease costs, we still need to take on more costs for equipment,” Fujii said. “Once the initial $70,000 investment has been paid back, we’ll just keep reaping the benefits.” That project will start saving the institution money after functioning for five and a half years, a figure carefully analyzed by Fujii in the process of receiving the loan.

The Energy Trust of Oregon will be reviewing the controls of the Fourth Avenue Building to determine what alterations could be made to function in a more sustainable way. That study is free with the understanding that any improvements will be made that will completely recoup costs in the first year.

Brian O’Sullivan, on the other hand, is still looking for opportunities every day to save money. “I’m that guy who goes around turning off lights in the classrooms. I was in the ballroom the other day turning off the lights when the room wasn’t being used until nine that night.”