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Managing Rising Fuel Prices

As members of the Smith community enter the spring semester, the cost of keeping classrooms, residences and administrative offices comfortable against the winter’s cold is eating increasing chunks of the Smith College budget.

The price of heating oil has more than doubled during the past two years, bumping up 52 percent in the past year to nearly $60 a barrel at the end of 2005. Natural gas prices, on an even steeper trajectory, have more than doubled since last July, hitting record highs of more than $15 per million Btu at the end of the year.

Smith uses about 1.2 million gallons of oil a year, but also uses natural gas for about 10 percent of its energy in heating and powering the 98 buildings on campus.

“Smith, like most colleges and universities, has been faced with a budgetary challenge stemming from the substantial price increases for both oil and natural gas,” says Richard Myers, chief planning and budget officer. “Fortunately, we identified this situation early in the fiscal year and have used some of our budget flexibility to cover the increased costs. Based on our current financial plan, we do not expect that higher energy costs will force a round of significant cost-cutting on campus, but may limit the amount of funding we have available for other initiatives.”

Meanwhile, thanks to numerous conservation measures in the Physical Plant and by the college’s Green Team, reductions in energy consumption on campus have helped offset fuel cost increases. As fuel prices are expected to remain high, the college will eventually transition to a cogeneration power facility, which should cut energy costs by $650,000 a year and substantially reduce pollution. —ESW

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