During cold Marquette winters, the heat provided to most of Northern through the Ripley Heating Plant is more than a highly valued commodity; it’s a necessity few would want to live without.
Carl Holm, director of Housing and Residence Life, said while the cost of natural gas has gone up, the university had already anticipated the rising costs and budgeted accordingly.
“Overall, the cost for heating our buildings has increased with the cost of fuel. These costs are budgeted for in our operating budgets and, in turn, included in our room and apartment rental rates,” Holm said.
The efficiency of the university’s heating systems is paramount when considering the rising costs of energy sources. The raw cost of natural gas and its transportation to NMU was $3.48 million for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, said Kathy Richards associate vice president of Engineering and Planning and Facilities.
Natural gas is supplied to the boilers in the heating plant which then produce steam that is distributed to buildings across campus via steam lines that are buried in tunnels underground, she said.
“NMU works hand-in-hand with the State of Michigan Gas Cooperative to purchase natural gas on the commodities market, not from local distribution contractors,” Richards said.
In addition to cubic footage, Richards said there is also the added cost to buildings with special equipment such as fume hoods, which are devices that limit exposure to harmful fumes in science laboratories in the New Science building. Fume hoods must be constantly running to operate properly.
“We allocate the cost of natural gas to all of the buildings on the steam distribution line based on the cubic footage of that building,” she said.
Buildings are not metered individually yet due to fiscal constraints, Richards said, but the largest buildings, such as the PEIF complex, New Science, and the Superior Dome, are some of the greatest consumers of heat because they have the most amount of cubic footage.
The university used more natural gas during the 2007-2008 fiscal year than the previous one and so overall costs were higher, Richards said, but just because more gas was used does not mean energy was wasted. The actual cost of natural gas rose by approximately 10 percent and the past two years have been colder than average, forcing the university to use more heat.