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Building better, conserving energy

Western Carolina University is leading the way in a state mandate to cut energy production on college campuses.

WCU has already reached the state target of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2015, making it the first and only university to reach the goal so far.

WCU Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, who has led efforts to reduce energy consumption on campus, organized last week’s fair on energy and the environment. The goal of the fair was to promote sustainability, which she defined as “meeting the needs of today without compromising future generations.”

The university is doing the best it can to reduce its energy consumption, Bishop said. While WCU had a $4.8 million utility bill last year, that’s $600,000 lower than it had been — a reduction achieved by using natural gas instead of petroleum and taking other steps such as using electric vehicles.

During the fair, WCU Chancellor John Bardo touted WCU’s energy reduction accomplishments. The 30 percent cut in fossil fuel consumption was based on 2002-2003 levels.

Universities account for 52 percent of the state governments total energy use, according to Reid Conway, program manager for the state Energy Office in Asheville, who served as keynote speaker at the event.

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North Carolina ranks 12th in energy consumption and is expected to see a 28 percent increase in energy use between 2005 and 2020.

About $200 million was spent on energy in state buildings in 2006.

The state consumed 180.9 million barrels of oil in 2006, he said.

Conway believes the state will make progress thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature that requires power companies to get 3 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2012 and 12.5 percent by 2021. Using renewable resources such as wind, thermal, geothermal and biomass, can improve air quality, Conway said.

More efficient building codes and water conservation also need to be employed in the state to help the environment, he said.

People should be encouraged to conserve energy because it costs $3,555 a year for a family making $10,000 to $30,000, he said.

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