Keeping Tower dark for Earth Hour was intended to raise awareness for conservation, not to lessen electricity use


Mengwen Cao

 Last year, the University consumed 3,920,381 MMBTu, or million British thermal units, of natural gas. According to the University’s Utilities and Energy Management department, energy consumption correlates with the amount of people on campus and variations in the weather. 

Christina Breitbeil

While switching off all lights in the Tower is an insignificant action in terms of conserving electricity, the gesture still makes a difference, according to Jim Walker, director of sustainability for the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management. 

The University kept the Tower dark Saturday in support of Earth Hour — an international movement organized by the World Wildlife Fund to celebrate commitment to the planet by shutting off all lights for an hour.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not saving a whole lot of energy,” Walker said. “We get the most bang for our buck in raising awareness. One evening of the Tower not lit isn’t putting a dent in [electricity usage], but you see the Tower from the highway and come home on a Friday and turn a power strip off for the weekend. … That’s where we see the real savings.”

According to the University’s Utilities and Energy Management department, total natural gas consumption in 2013 was 3,920,381 million British thermal units, or MMBTu. Laurie Lentz, manager of business and financial services, said energy usage from lighting is not metered separately and cannot be determined, but the campus does use less energy when there are less people on campus.

“The amount of energy used on campus does vary,” Lentz said. “Variations are mainly due to weather but are also affected by the number of people on campus. Energy use declines during the winter break, for example.”

In addition to dormitory lighting, which is up to the discretion of the students, some lighting on campus must remain on at all times. Walker said turning lights off outside could be dangerous for students out at night.

“We have to be careful with lighting on campus because all of the lighting on campus that is outside is a matter of safety,” Walker said.

Stephanie Perrone, project manager of the University’s Energy and Water Conservation program, said the Tower going dark was a gesture similar to turning the lights on or off for any campus event, since there are already lighting controls in place throughout campus.

“No one decides which buildings on campus keep their lights on or off,” Perrone said. “Several buildings have lighting controls, either based on occupancy sensors or based on a time schedule. Beyond that, it is up to the occupant to turn off lights at the end of the day.”