HILO — If you’ve ever felt the pain of paying an unanticipated monster electricity bill, just imagine being the guy who writes the checks at University of Hawaii at Hilo.
In fiscal year 2011-12, UH-Hilo budgeted $5.1 million for its utility costs, with the bulk of that figure being represented by power, said Marcia Sakai, Hilo’s vice chancellor for administrative affairs.
By spring 2012, the rate of monthly spending had increased such that the school was anticipating a shortfall of approximately $450,000, with anticipated total spending closer to $5.5 million.
Money to pay that half-million-dollar spike in the energy bills had to come from somewhere, explained UH-Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney as he spoke to members of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce on July 25. Ultimately, it means that the university has to spend more of its operating budget on power and less on its other services, such as making faculty hires.
As a result of such jumps in electricity bills, Straney has appointed Sakai as the campus’ sustainability director and charged her with finding ways to cut utility costs and developing an energy management plan, making the university more efficient. He was very up front about his reasons for doing so.
In January, Straney asked Sakai to start by analyzing electricity spending at UH-Hilo. She and her staffers gathered electric bills for calendar years 2010 and 2011 for the school’s main meter on Nowelo Street, which provides the campus with about 84 percent of its power.
“Our analysis revealed that spending had risen by 25 percent, with 4 percent related to higher usage and the balance of 21 percent related to higher energy charges,” Sakai said.
UH-Hilo is adding photovoltaics to their power grid. So far, the csolar panels generate more than 150 kilowatts in electricity, with another 500 kilowatts currently being installed. That second increment of photovoltaics will put the campus very near the limit of photovoltaic production within the guidelines established by Hawaii Electric Light Company.