Potential Power Outages Prompt Energy Initiative

With winter now setting in on campus, the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP) fears that power outages could affect Phillips Academy throughout the term. An energy conservation initiative launched this year will entail a school-wide indoor temperature change from 70 to 68 degrees. The monetary savings from this alteration will be published weekly in the Gazette. “It is no secret that we are faced with huge budget shortfalls in our energy budgets and we’re trying to ask the community to help us during these difficult times,” said Associate Director of maintenance and Utilities Carlos Montanez. A new notification process will ensure that the PA Community is forewarned of any power outage 20 to 30 minutes before the event. The Academy is unlikely to face a power blackout of more than one or two minutes. To ensure that students are not affected, Director of Technology Valerie Roman advises students to shut off computers and other electronic equipment when not using them and to save documents frequently. Though OPP has not finalized the method to notify the community, the system will involve a call to the PACC [Phillips Academy Computer Center] to tell students to save their work and shut down their computers. These notifications aim to protect electronic equipment, particularly computers, on campus. “[We subscribed to the notification program because] it was felt by all that it was far better to have some control over the reliability, stability, and power quality of the electricity that serves this campus,” said Mr. Montanez. PA also subscribes to an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), which would provide additional time to shut down computers. “The worst possible scenario is that students doing work in the PACC would end up losing their work,” said Ms. Roman. She continued, “Unless a student has a UPS system or [has his or her] computer plugged into a surge protector, there is a possibility of computer damage and loss of data.” Reinstalling software and reconfiguring damaged computers could cost up to $70 per hour for the school, and data recovery would be at least $900-$2,500. Damage to Audio-Visual Equipment could also reach up to $4,500 per projector or plasma screen. A report from the Office of Technology made two suggestions to decrease the amount of energy consumed by the school: first, to ask night custodians to close all windows in administrative and academic buildings overnight, and second, to investigate methods of regulating heat in dorms and residences more efficiently. These measures would make less likely the possibility of costly power outages. Constellation New Energy supplies electricity to the Academy, but National Grid manages the local distribution, which ensures that the power lines adequately transport the electricity. Refineries boost production of natural gas to store for later use as the nation prepares for the cold winter months, when the demand increases to heat homes and other buildings. As a result of Hurricane Katrina, stored levels of natural gas were lower than usual this fall. Katrina interrupted the period of natural gas storage that normally begins in August. Many power plants in Massachusetts are built with one method of combustion to generate electricity. Some plants have the capability to produce electricity with various fuels, yet these types of plants require more capital. “Very few, if any, power generation facilities have the capability of using alternative means of fuel for generation,” said Mr. Montanez. He continued, “We use natural gas as a primary fuel source, [but] PA has the capability of burning an alternative fuel for heat and power generation. That fuel is low sulfur transportation diesel.”