The price of saving energy

    Spurred into action by skyrocketing utility bills and a meter dispute, employees from the Portland State University Facilities and Planning office met last Wednesday for negotiations with a team from Portland General Electric.

    PSU paid $136,000 for electricity in June, according to interim director of facilities and planning Robyn Pierce, and that bill is expected to rise in the coming months. Pierce said she had hoped to wangle a “reduced educational rate” out of the utility in Wednesday’s meeting.

    ”In the last two years our electricity rates have gone up 25 percent,” she said.

    A major focus of Wednesday’s meeting was the increased electricity bill for PSU’s CSEC annex, which holds engineering labs and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas. Last year the annex used an atypically low quantity of electricity because of construction and seismic refitting. When use slipped below 30 kilowatts a month, PGE began to bill the annex as a “small business” instead of “industrial” energy customer.

    The annex will not return to industrial price rates for 18 months after its original slip below 30 kilowatts, even if it increases its energy usage. At Wednesday’s meeting, PSU negotiators asked that the utility return the annex to its old rate schedule, but PGE  declined to do so.

    Tom Riddle, account manager from PGE for PSU, said that Oregon Senate Bill 1149 makes it legal to charge schedule 32, or small business, rates on any meter that uses less than 30 kilowatts a month. The increase is an additional 1.8 cent charge per kilowatt, according to Pierce.

    ”They don’t want it to appear that we’re punished for sustainability,” Pierce said, “but until they come up with something more workable, the university will be punished every time we conserve power.”

    Riddle said that PGE wanted to help PSU become more energy efficient and reduce electric charges.

    ”We’re trying to work with PSU to help them become as energy efficient as possible,” Riddle said. “It’s a business relationship where you sit down and talk over ideas and see what makes business sense for both entities.”

    At Wednesday’s meeting, PGE recommended that the university consolidate its electric meters to save money.

    Presently, 50 different meters tabulate the electricity at PSU, all of which are charged at three different rates. If the university consolidated them into one or two meters PSU would pay only industrial rates, but the university and PGE disagree about how much meter consolidation would cost.

    ”PGE said $100,000, but our estimate – [is] that it would probably be about a million and a half dollars,” Pierce said. “PGE indicates an interest in working with PSU, but they have not yet shown a commitment to doing that.”

    PSU owns its own electric meters, many of which pre-date the existence of the university itself. If the university consolidated down to one or two meters, the new equipment would be the property of PGE.

    In the meantime, PSU is seeking other methods to reduce its electric bills. One temporary solution is the purchase of electricity from the California company Sempra.

    Another solution may come in the form of energy conservation. The Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) are planning an educational campaign for PSU students and faculty on the topic of conserving energy, said ASPSU President Courtney Morse.

    ”We want to educate students and faculty to turn off their computers, turn off the lights,” Morse said. A previous conservation effort, spurred by a campus-wide e-mail sent by Vice President of Finance and Administration Lindsay Desrochers, saved the university $200,000.

    ”We desperately need the campus community to help us reduce consumption,” said Pierce.

    The university’s entire electric bill last year, not counting housing, was $1,605,000.