SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — California Polytechnic State University has been honored with state awards for efforts to conserve energy and water. The university received two sustainability best practice plaques at the 2015 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference in San Francisco. Cal Poly has received 24 awards in the 11 years the statewide competition has been held.

The competition is open to California’s 112 community colleges, 23 California State University and 10 University of California campuses, as well as private colleges and universities in the state. The goal is to showcase innovative and effective energy-efficiency projects and sustainable operations that can be adopted by other institutions.

At Cal Poly, work is underway to complete a $4 million project to install lighting, heating and cooling retrofits this summer — a project that received the 2015 Sustainability Innovation Award for its financing and repayment arrangement.

The project is being financed by a $1 million interest-free loan from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and $3 million from the California Energy Commission, through a 1 percent loan. Both will be repaid over the next 10 years using annual savings of $282,000 in utility costs and $21,000 in maintenance.

“No out-of-pocket money was used,” said Dennis Elliot, Cal Poly’s director of Energy, Utilities, and Sustainability. “Essentially, our utility bills will not change. Savings from our reduced power usage will repay the loans instead of going toward utilities. Once the loans are paid off, our bills will drop.”

The $2.5 million lighting portion of the project will improve interior lighting in classrooms, labs, and offices in 16 buildings and replace 50 transformers throughout campus. The retrofits will reduce the university’s total power demand by 5 percent or 2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

The loans also are funding $1.5 million in improvements to campus heating and cooling systems. Nearly two dozen buildings are air conditioned through the central cooling storage tank system. Ten of the oldest classroom buildings will receive variable-flow pumping equipment to improve cooling efficiency.

New combustion controls being installed on Cal Poly’s three hot water boilers, which provide space heating, hot water, and heat the campus swimming pools, will save 47,000 therms of natural gas each year.

“We’re perpetually in the process of modernizing, renovating, and updating systems and facilities in a way that cuts our operating costs and reduces our environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions,” Elliot said. “This is just part of our fundamental mission to be good stewards of the environment, and good stewards of university resources.”

The university also garnered the 2015 Water Efficiency/Site Water Quality sustainability award — the third time Cal Poly has won that category — for its 16-page drought plan.

This year’s water conservation efforts will save 119.7 acre feet of water each year — 39 million gallons — and will help the campus achieve its 2016 goal of a 25 percent water reduction, one year early, Elliot said.

“Cal Poly didn’t wait for a drought to start conserving water,” he said. “When the situation got bad enough for the governor to declare a statewide emergency, we ratcheted up our efforts to be even more aggressive.”

Cal Poly has been recognized as a leader in sustainability with a number of best practice awards, certifications, national rating systems, and surveys. For more information, visit

Publication date: 8/17/2015

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