Juan Ontiveros

The University will install a new energy plant by 2016 to support the needs of the Dell Medical School.

Juan Ontiveros, executive director of Utilities and Energy Management, said the new plant will be connected to the existing system.

“We’re designing a new state of the art plant that’s going to complement the one we built in 2008,” Ontiveros said. “We believe that’s going to allow us to continue this trend of efficiently delivering energy.”

According to Ontiveros, the new plant is being installed in order to provide adequate energy resources to the medical school, but it will also benefit the rest of the University.

“It’s not just only going to serve the medical school,” Ontiveros said. “It is designed to meet the energy needs of the medical school, but efficiency in any form is really good and will complement the campus.”

Designs for the new plant are only about halfway finished, but should be complete by June of 2016, Ontiveros said. The new plant will most likely increase the cost of energy at UT, according to Ontiveros, but he said he did not have an exact prediction for the amount increase.

Ontiveros provided estimations for the current average daily costs for different months throughout the fall semester by selecting a typical day from each month and developing an average based on typical energy usage within a particular month.

“Cooling in September is like half of our electrical costs,” Ontiveros said. “December is a good month...In December and over the Christmas holidays, we’re just trying to keep the buildings from freezing.”

According to Ontiveros’ calculations, the University spends approximately $165,531 on an average September day compared to roughly $121,288 over the entirety of winter break.

Collaborative efforts between UT and Austin Water showed that purple is the new green at a celebration ceremony Wednesday to mark the completion of a project aimed to save water, cut costs and increase system efficiency.

A new system of purple pipes, colored to distinguish the system from potable water, was installed to link the University’s chilling stations with Austin Water’s reclaimed water system, allowing campus buildings to use filtered wastewater instead of potable water for cooling systems.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other officials turned a ceremonial valve to initiate the system. Director of Austin Water Greg Meszaros said the system is the product of a 30-year master plan.

Since the first initiative to reclaim water for irrigation in 1974, according to Austin Water, conservation efforts have led to a total of about 1.5 billion gallons of water saved annually throughout the city.

“It’s a dedication of years of planning,” Meszaros said. “Even several retired workers are here today. It’s just one project of many to come.”

Instead of discharging into the Colorado River, some water from wastewater treatment plants will now be directed to UT for uses other than drinking water, such as cooling campus buildings.

The city invested $16 million to transport the pipes to the University, according to Juan Ontiveros, the executive director for utilities and energy management. According to a press release from the Utilities and Energy Management Department, the new system will save 70 million gallons of potable water each year. In 2012, the University recovered between 50 and 60 million gallons of water to cooling towers. Between 2008 and 2011, annual recovered water ranged from 30 to 40 million gallons.

“It’s an important message for campus to understand about doing the right thing for the environment and at the same time cutting costs,” Ontiveros said. “It’s about stewardship and we all have to do our part.”

Ontiveros said, since the beginning of his career at UT, the University has improved 40 percent overall energy efficiency and a total of 25 percent water efficiency. Along with these improvements, UT is operating on the same amount of energy that it did nearly 40 years ago. “Sixteen years ago when I started, we had 9 million less square feet and yet [our usage is equivalent to] 1976 levels,” Ontiveros said. “No one in the world has ever done that.”

Patricia Clubb, vice president for University Operations, said the project directly affects students.

“It directs the budget in such a way that it puts resources into the education of students and not towards the water bill," she said.

A woman walks below the powerlines on 5th Street and Lamar Monday afternoon. A recent report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that due to an insufficient supply of energy to meet growing demand, Texas could start experiencing rolling blackouts starting in 2012.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a 10-year outlook report last week stating that Texas could face rolling blackouts starting in the summer of 2012 because of reduced energy generation and increased demand.

The report cites potentially extreme summer temperatures and power plant construction problems as factors that require rolling blackouts to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid. ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark said rolling blackouts use controlled power outages to balance the energy supply. Electrical companies cut off energy to different areas in the electrical grid for 15 to 40 minutes until the supply is balanced, Roark said.

Roark said the amount of energy held on reserve should equal 13.75 percent of the total energy generated in order to handle power outages and scheduled maintenance. Given the amount of energy that is currently produced and the expected demand, ERCOT predicts the percentage of energy reserves to drop to 12 percent during the summer of 2012.

“The report is a signal to the market about future energy demands,” Roark said. “It gives them incentives to make new energy plants to meet that demand.”

Roark said ERCOT is attempting to handle the generation shortage by increasing the number of customers paid to shut off their energy use during emergency situations.

Roark said ERCOT is responsible for balancing the supply and demand of energy in Texas in order to make sure the grid’s equipment is always running at the appropriate level. If the demand for energy increases and the energy supply is not enough to handle the demand, the grid equipment can be damaged and cause an uncontrolled blackout.

Juan Ontiveros, UT’s executive director of Utilities and Energy Management, said whether or not the rolling blackouts occur depends on what the energy market does, but the shortages will not affect the UT campus.

“On the main campus, we self-generate all of the energy, including electricity, for the majority of the campus, which includes all of the research facilities,” Ontiveros said. “However, we do rely on the ERCOT grid as a backup in the event we were to experience an unexpected failure of generation.”

Ontiveros said there is little chance for UT’s energy generation facilities to face problems, and the University is committed to meeting the energy needs of the campus.

“The main campus has experienced a reliability of 99.999 percent over the last 35 years,” Ontiveros said. “Over the last 10 years, we have made significant investments in the campus utility systems so that current and future campus energy needs are met reliably and cost-effectively.”

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova said all energy companies in Texas have to participate in the rolling blackout even if they have enough energy to meet their demands.

“The voltage has to balance out. Otherwise, it creates even worse outages,” Cordova said. “Rolling blackouts are necessary to prevent a total blackout.”

Cordova said Austin Energy has increased the number of circuits in their system over the past year and will be able to spread outages more evenly throughout the city in the event of a rolling blackout.

Cordova said it is important for people to conserve energy to prevent potential shortages during the winter and summer seasons when energy use reaches its peak.

“Everyone will have to continue to conserve until more generation is brought online,” Cordova said. “Especially if temperatures are as high as last summer and the drought continues.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: UT not to be affected electrical blackouts 

In 2009, Austin Water lost almost $53 million in revenue because of increased rainfall across Texas and lower consumption rate, said David Anders, assistant director of business support services for the utility company.

In response, this Tuesday, Austin Water enacted the new fixed Revenue Stability Fee, which will cause monthly rates to increase based on the amount of water used, he said.

“Our average customer consumes 77 hundred gallons of water and 47 hundred gallons of wastewater [monthly],” Anders said. “Currently, that costs the consumer about $64.88. Under the new rates, it will rise to $72.67, which is about a 12 percent increase [per consumer on average].”

He said the fee will most significantly impact consumers who use more than 15,000 gallons of water monthly.

Director of residential facilities Randy Porter said the Department of Housing and Food Services would certainly be affected by an increase in rates.

“Utility rates are obviously part of our expenses, and they factor into our anticipated costs,” Porter said.

He said the department has been trying to limit water usage by replacing all shower heads and toilets with low usage systems during any remodeling. He also said the department tries to educate its residents about conservation.

“We implement a lot of conservation-type programs to try to keep our costs down,” he said. “And we are always looking at ways to limit our water consumption.”

Juan Ontiveros, executive director of utilities at UT, said because these increases are targeted at large consumers they will more greatly affect the University.

“The largest rate increases that we get are always in water and wastewater,” Ontiveros said.

UT has been working hard to limit consumption, and through these efforts, UT consumes 17 percent less water than it did in 2006, Ontiveros said.

“The University uses water for its cooling systems, and by capturing the condensation from [them], we have been able to save about 39 million gallons of water,” Ontiveros said. “Additionally, the University makes all of its own electricity, and water is used in our energy manufacturing process. Cleaner and more efficient energy production at UT means less water consumption.”

He said the University has also made water conservation efforts such as shutting off campus fountains and limiting irrigation, but there is only so much the University can do to conserve water.

“Even though we do a lot of things to reduce water consumption, the campus still uses a lot of water,” Ontiveros said. “There is not much else you can do when you have 70,000 people on campus.”

Ontiveros said the University has a responsibility to use its resources wisely, which it is seeking to uphold.

“The campus is trying to be a good steward and do the right thing,” Ontiveros said. “We have always said that whatever we don’t spend on utilities, we can spend on academics.” 

Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Austin Water raises rates, utility costs up for some

Record levels of electricity use in Texas last week led to concerns about possible statewide rolling blackouts, but such an event would not affect UT because the campus runs its own power grid.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which supplies about 85 percent of the state’s electricity, required several large industrial customers to shut down Thursday when the state set a new demand record at 68,294 megawatts during peak hours Wednesday. The company canceled a power watch Friday in response to reduced demand.

Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the council, said high demand could continue if record temperatures persist. The council instituted blackouts in February after extreme cold temperatures led to increased energy use. In high temperatures, people run more air conditioning, which she said strains power generation units.

“The drought is causing some units to have issues with the temperature of the coolant they use for their generation units, which means they may have to run at lower capacity,” Roark said in an email.

Rolling blackouts temporarily shut off power to prevent uncontrolled shutdowns, Roark said.

“Those massive blackouts are very hard to recover from and can take days or weeks to restore the units,” she said.

Juan Ontiveros, UT’s Utilities and Energy Management executive director, said lack of wind, which helps supply the council’s power, has contributed to the company’s difficulties during the heat wave.

“Part of their capacity comes from wind,” Ontiveros said. “One of the problems with high temperatures is that in high temperatures you don’t get wind.”

Ontiveros said the UT power plant provides most buildings on the main campus with electricity, but does not power the Pickle Research Campus. Neither the main campus nor the Pickle Research Campus experienced significant problems when the council last required blackouts Feb. 2.

The UT power grid has not had large increases in demand for this time of year like the city and state, Ontiveros said. If it became necessary to reduce power, the University would turn off the cooling system while chillers would maintain the temperature. A 4-million-gallon cold water storage tank next to the San Jacinto Garage could supply cooling for up to four hours. The University could also use the statewide grid, if necessary.

“We produce all of the power that we need, but we’re connected to [the council],” Ontiveros said.

Austin Energy reached a record in peak electricity usage at 2,685 megawatts Tuesday, said Leslie Sopko, Austin Energy spokeswoman. If asked to shed usage by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the utility would institute blackouts for 10 minutes at a time through 71 of its circuits, while 318 circuits would remain, maintaining emergency services and hospitals.

“We don’t cut off those circuits because those are critical services that we need to keep the lights on,” Sopko said.

Printed on Monday, August 8th, 2011 as: Statewide blackouts feared possible after record electricity use