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ISSUE 120 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/14/2007

Energy wars

By Katie Godfrey
Contributing Writer
and Kathryn Sederberg
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

February is the month of love. At St. Olaf this means not only love for that special someone, but love for our earth as well.

Turn off the lights, light those candles; turn down the heat and snuggle under a blanket during these cold February nights. Although many may not have noticed, we are under siege during this time of romance: Macalester College has declared war, an energy war.


The “energy war,” also called “energy month,” is a statewide competition between 14 schools including St. Olaf, Carleton, Macalester, University of Minnesota-Duluth, St. Scholastica and Gustavus Adolphus. As it states in their “Declaration of War,” Macalester students were motivated by the fact that “all parties consume energy and emit carbon dioxide to an unacceptable degree.”

Last February, Macalester won the competition: Its winning dorm reduced energy consumption by 27 percent. Carleton's campus-wide reduction was 16.3 percent and St. Olaf's total reduction was 14 precent. While 14 percent is a strong change, it's easy to set this year's goal higher.

For the second year, the competition will also take place between dorms at St. Olaf. Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg said he was impressed by the difference made by students' individual efforts. Mohn was last year's winning dorm, with a 38 percent reduction in energy use. Rand took second (23 percent reduction) and Larson took third (16 percent). Mellby was the only dorm with increased consumption (4.6 percent).


Our neighbors across the Cannon River are trying to defend their Northfield title. The Carleton Farm House has been eating by candlelight more often than normal. But how do they perceive Oles? “I don't think most people (‘average Carls’) know how sustainable St. Olaf is. They think Carleton is much more green, but this is not the case,” said Farm House resident Mikaela Hagen

And in terms of an inter-campus rivalry, what could be better than an energy competition?


With the buzz surrounding global warming, students are starting to realize the impact their electricity use has on carbon dioxide emissions: electricity accounts for about one-third of total U.S. emissions. As Sandberg reminds us, we can have a wider impact with building design and structural changes. Examples include green architecture such as the new Science Center, Buntrock Commons and Dittmann Center. Renewable energies such as the wind turbine are not the only solution. Individuals can still make a difference by conserving energy.

Many students who have lived off-campus have already experienced the direct economic impact of wasting electricity and water. Senior Katie Henly, after spending a year abroad in Germany, was shocked to get her energy bill.

“It was so appalling to see this huge bill,” she said. “One, because I had to pay for it myself, and two, because it was so mortifying that I was the only one responsible for using all that electricity.”

At St. Olaf we're paying for utilities indirectly, so it's sometimes hard to fully comprehend those effects. After graduation you'll be paying your own utilities bill – start practicing good habits now.

Think about your shower schedule and try to reduce. If you usually shower once a day or more, re-think your routine to conserve water and energy. Shortening your showers by one to two minutes can save up to 700 gallons of water a month. Turn off the water while you lather up or shave and never leave the water on while you brush your teeth.

Check the heat level in your room. Each room should have its own temperature control. Conserve energy by leaving your curtains open during the day to catch sunlight and by closing windows and outside doors.

Turn off the lights! Use compact florescent bulbs in your desk lamp and never leave an empty room with the light on, public bathrooms included.

Sandberg has compared St. Olaf to a small town of 3,000 people, an almost self-sustaining community. The college has already taken steps to reduce its environmental impact with the new wind turbine, for example, and now it's up to students to do their part. Hopefully we can leave here with an education that's more than a degree, and transfer those habits and ideas to our future communities.

While this is a contest, or even “war,” it's better to think of it as a hands-on learning experience. We have to challenge ourselves individually to see how we can make a collective difference. The point is not to sabotage other schools or dorms, but to honestly make an attempt to reduce consumption.


Look around your dorm room at all those cords. One thing Sandberg has noticed in the last few years is an increase in the “stuff kids have.” Did you know that leaving your cell phone charger plugged in uses energy? It's called a “phantom load,” and it's sucking energy without doing anything. Keeping a microwave or computer plugged in when not in use has the same effect. When a surge protector isn't turned off, even if your appliances are, it's still using energy. Shut down computers if you're leaving a public lab late at night, especially your dormitory computer lab or the library.

Go around and unplug these items!

–Computer –TV –Gaming systems –Radio/stereo –Toaster –Hairdryer/curling iron

The best option, of course, is to reduce or stop using unnecessary electrical appliances. Refrigerators are some of the largest energy-users, so consider using the communal fridges instead of that personal mini-fridge. A clothes dryer uses 10 times as much energy as a washer. Hang your clothes up to dry; you don't have to worry about things shrinking, either. Talk to your corridor about setting up a drying rack in your utility room.

This February, remember that nothing says “love” like candles and a down comforter. Turn down the heat and turn up the love!

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