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Initiative aims to increase energy efficiency of student rentals

RELEASED: Sept. 29, 2011

SCORE

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students living in off-campus housing may soon pay less in energy bills while helping to decrease the community's carbon footprint.

In October, UW-Eau Claire's Student Senate will consider a proposal to participate in a new program aimed at educating student renters, property owners and property managers about conservation and efficiency in their rental units. The program also would help make student rental properties more energy efficient at no cost to the student renters or property owners.

UW-Eau Claire's Student Office of Sustainability has proposed hosting the $CORE Program (Student and Community Outreach on Rental Efficiency), an energy conservation and education program that was first established at the University of Colorado Boulder.

SOS, a standing commission of the Student Senate that is funded by student segregated fees, was established earlier this year to promote environmental sustainability within the university.

"The SOS is a perfect host for the $CORE program because it helps educate students and landlords about reducing their electric and water bill costs, leading the way to a more sustainable campus, city and region," said Tyrel Zich, an intern in the SOS office on campus and an intern in the Economic Development and Community Service area of Xcel Energy.

In addition to educating student renters and property owners about energy conservation, the program also would include installing conservation materials such as compact fluorescent lighting, faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, window film and weather stripping in participating student rentals, said Zich, a junior political science major from Fall Creek. The materials would be installed at no cost to the student tenants or the landlords, he said.

"Students in rental properties are often living on their own for the first time in their lives," Zich said. "Many of them are on financial aid and work to cover living expenses. They often have limited knowledge about even basic energy and water conservation habits or tactics that will reduce their utility bills."

If approved, the program will hire four student energy educators and two student program coordinators, Zich said, noting the student employees would gain valuable real-world experiences working with a conservation program.

The program's goal is to audit 100 student rental properties during the 201l-12 academic year, Zich said, adding that the SOS office is in the process of contacting area rental property management companies and landlords to ensure their cooperation.

$CORE is different from other programs because it emphasizes peer-to-peer interaction and education about energy conservation and efficiency in students' rental properties, Zich said.

"It's different from traditional conservation outreach that only gives out information," Zich said. "$CORE sends teams of students into student homes to conduct walk-through energy and water assessments, and to share information about how to cut energy use and use energy more efficiently. The program also provides same-day installs of conservation materials."

If all conservation materials were installed in a rental unit, tenants could save more than $260 annually in utility costs, Zich said of the financial benefits to the students.

The $CORE program also is designed to help students understand behaviors that can help them reduce their utility bills even more, Zich said, noting that the economic impact on individual residences will vary depending on the available energy reduction opportunities and how tenants change their behaviors based on feedback from the audit.

While the cost savings to students is significant, the program also provides benefits to the environment that go beyond the individual student renters, Zich said. The program will lead to reductions in carbon emissions, greater energy efficiency and lower water consumption, he said. For example, if all materials were installed in all 100 rental units, more than 1,095,000 gallons of water would be saved annually, he said.

If approved at the Oct. 10 Student Senate meeting, in November students can begin to sign up to have their rental units be audited. $CORE will train student energy auditors in January 2012, with a goal of completing 100 student rental audits by March 2012, Zich said.

Xcel Energy will help fund the $CORE Program and has donated three power check meters to the SOS office for use in this program and others, Zich said, adding that Xcel Energy also has offered to help train student energy educators.

"Energy efficiency plays an important role at Xcel Energy, and we are pleased to collaborate with the Student Office of Sustainability to help students better understand how to manage energy use and reduce costs," said James Hanke, economic development manager at Xcel Energy and Zich's internship supervisor. "Through this internship, Tyrel has demonstrated the value of working with an intern in that he has thoroughly researched and developed a model program that we think will benefit many student renters."

WISPIRG Energy Service Corps, which also has conducted home energy efficiency audits in the Eau Claire area, will share information with the $CORE program.

Jim's Pizza in Eau Claire will provide pizzas to student renters who participate in the program, Zich said.

The UW-Eau Claire $CORE program would be a replication of the CU-Boulder program. Zich said the plan would be to test the replicated program on the UW-Eau Claire campus and, if it's successful, expand it to other UW System institutions.

For more information, contact Tyrel Zich at 715-577-1570 or zichtj@uwec.edu.

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JB/DW

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