Brighter, greener and more comfortable

Just in time for Earth Day – celebrated Monday – UND investments make for greener tomorrow

Johnson Controls

Just in time for Earth Day, a new 40-year partnership between UND and Johnson Controls, Inc., is starting to deliver the campus improvements, as well as decades of operational certainty and savings. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

University of North Dakota officials, with ceremonial shovels, officially broke ground in October for a new steam plant on campus, but now the real work begins on the $90-million construction project, which invests in buildings throughout campus and brings new lighting, comfort and energy savings to the people of UND.

A new 40-year partnership with Johnson Controls, Inc., is delivering the campus improvements, as well as decades of operational certainty and savings.

“When we realized the current steam plant was reaching the end of its life expectancy, we knew we had to enlist a trusted partner who would not only help us fix inefficiencies on campus, but also change the way our infrastructure is run,” said UND President Mark Kennedy. “By partnering with Johnson Controls in a public private partnership, we are able to do so much more than before. We are able to leave a positive legacy for future generations at the University of North Dakota and the surrounding community.”

Kennedy also highlighted the fact it touches every aspect of campus. The old plant coming down will open up a central area of campus, working toward the master plan of beautification.

And just in time for Earth Day, which was celebrated worldwide on Monday, the efficiencies are putting UND on a path of being a greener institution.

Annually, the new steam plant and surrounding improvements will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40,000 metric tons of CO2 – equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 74 square miles of forest.

“It will be like taking 8,600 cars off the road,” Kennedy added. “This is going to have a huge impact elevating the beauty and functionality of campus that will hopefully attract ever more students to UND.”

Representatives from UND and Johnson Controls, Inc., along with Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and State Sen. Ray Holmberg, throw the ceremonial dirt on a new steam plant project that will replace the century-old plant now located in the heart of campus. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

Flurry of activity

Students, faculty, staff and visitors are now noticing a difference, with construction tape, workers in hard hats, and cranes and equipment cropping up around the University. What began last fall amid great fanfare is now a flurry of activity to replace the aging coal-fueled steam plant and undertake millions of dollars of deferred maintenance in approximately 30 campus buildings.

Workers are on-site replacing outdated, inefficient lighting and equipment. Some shuffling of spaces in the buildings will be necessary to accommodate their work, and occasionally it may be more difficult to find parking with cranes set up in parking lots to place rooftop units. Johnson Controls will minimize interruptions by working as much as possible in the evenings and overnight. Project leaders meet weekly to coordinate with University officials and ensure everyone knows of necessary changes and schedules. This project comes with dust, noise and some inconvenience. However, as President Kennedy emphasized, the payoff will be amazing ― a greener carbon footprint.

What’s going on?

In addition to replacing the central steam plant with a new state-of-the-art facility ― at no upfront cost to the University ― the project includes investments and improvements to nearly all campus facilities. The work occurring now and extending into 2020, between the steam plant and other buildings, addresses $90-100 million in deferred maintenance ― nearly a $70-million investment in more than 30 campus buildings.

Improvements under way in UND buildings:

  • Lighting upgrade: Replacing inefficient lighting with intelligent LED fixtures not only saves money and energy, it provides a better experience for the learning environment. The lighting design matches the usage of the space, brighter or dimmer, where appropriate, and adjustable for areas that warrant more control. This project converts more than 13,000 interior lights and more than 2,400 exterior lights to LED. The updates for the lighting alone save more than $350,000 in utility costs annually and reduce energy consumption by nearly 5 million kilowatt hours (kWh), a unit of measurement that equates to burning 1,000 watts of energy in an hour. For example, an average U.S. household consumes about 10,400 kWh of electricity per year. That means the lighting upgrades at UND are the equivalent of removing 480 homes from the grid ever year.
  • Mechanical equipment: Close to 800 heating and cooling systems will be replaced or improved in UND buildings. That means more comfortable spaces, better reliability and more control over temperatures. These measures will save nearly $350,000 in utility costs yearly and reduce energy consumption by 1.7 million kWh, or the equivalent of about 160 homes.
  • Building systems and controls: The project improves the function of other systems. These include building automation systems that link and control all the pieces it takes to run a building ― from heating to lighting to security and more ― to improve their functionality and productivity, and reduce energy consumption. Also, making sure other building units are operating at peak performance saves money and energy. Together, these updates are estimated to save another $340,000 in utility costs every year and more than 2 million kWh (190 homes).

The benefits of the construction stretch decades into the future. Predictable maintenance and operating costs for 40 years and energy savings of more than $1 million a year allows the University to devote funds to other areas. Compared to the current operating model, the improvements are expected to deliver nearly $200 million in enterprise value over the 40-year partnership.

Construction continues through 2019 and into the spring of 2020, and then Johnson Controls’ operational services last throughout the partnership to ensure the improvements keep on benefiting the University. So, UND can focus on what it does best ― providing top-notch education and research, with a cleaner and sustainable environment for its students.

Erin S. Anderson, with Johnson Controls, Inc., was a significant contributor to this article.