Washburn agrees to 20-year wind energy commitment with Westar

Washburn announced they will be purchasing energy from a wind farm being developed by Westar Energy.

According to a press release, the 20-year agreement approved by the Board of Regents will see Washburn purchasing 4 megawatts of energy from the farm, about 80 percent of the university’s main campus and Washburn Tech campus.

“We have been exploring ways to increase our use of green energy so this opportunity came at an opportune time,” said Jerry Farley, Washburn University president, in the release. “But, just as important, this new arrangement will save the university upwards of $100 thousand a year.”

According to Jim Martin, vice president of administration and treasurer, this agreement will lower energy costs for Washburn because of the rise of projected fuel costs.

“Westar has 15 or so power plants that burn gas, coal or have uranium decay, that boil water that puts off steam,” Martin said. “That steam spins a turbine which puts out electricity. The fuel charge that Westar charges us has been above 2 cents a kilowatt hour for a long time.”

This option will see that charge drop to 1.8 cents for the next 20 years.

“[It’s] less than we’re paying today to get green energy,” Martin said.

Martin said that the physics behind how this works is that Westar is part of a larger grid of electricity. When the wind turbines are spinning, the need for a gas or coal-powered plant is lessened so they can burn less fuel at them.

“It does save and truly is green power,” Martin said.

Martin said that this reduction in spending will benefit the university and its students. As a non-profit institution, tuition is based on the costs to run the university. By saving money by lowering the electricity bills, it costs less to run the university. According to Rich Connell, director of facility services, those savings could be enormous.

“It will start around $70,000 and then escalate up over the next 20 years to possibly closer to $100,000- $110,000 a year,” Connell said. “If you aggregate that out, it comes to almost $2 million.”

Martin said that what will help even more is the potential rise in fuel costs in the next 20 years.

“If there are additional taxes put on coal or environmental taxes on fuel, we’ll escape that because we’re generating with wind,” Martin said.

Connell said that the reason the university did not place the entire weight of their energy in wind, only 80 percent, is that there is potential for technological advances that may help the university more.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the next 20 years,” Connell said. “We wanted to have some room left in our energy purchasing portfolio that we can make adjustments.”

Connell also mentioned that with the additional projects being built, the energy load will go up. The other side of that, however, is the potential for advances in saving on energy consumption.

“Like LED lights, we could see the next generation of lights being more efficient,” Connell said.

Washburn Student Government Association submitted their own press release in support of this agreement. The release stated: “WSGA recognizes the need for renewable energy, and we have made strides ourselves to try to achieve green initiatives.”

WSGA President Zac Surritt said that the organization has been in talks with Martin about ways to improve these initiatives and he is grateful to see progress moving forward.

“While this [agreement] does a tremendous amount for the community, we’re still going to put together our sustainability committee,” Surritt said. “It will be an ad hoc committee to lessen our footprint on the community.”

Surritt said that he hopes that this committee will put Washburn ahead of the game.

“[This] will hopefully set a good example for other universities as well,” Surritt said.