Illustration by  S.I.R. MacaisaAggressive expansion and the use of power-hungry air-conditioners may have jacked up UST’s electric bill in the past few years, but the rising power consumption trend appears to have stabilized, data obtained by the Varsitarian showed.

The problem is, the hefty electric bill continues to eat up a huge chunk of the University’s revenues, and for now, there might be no other alternative but to conserve as other technologies are becoming too expensive.

Growth in the España campus’ annual power consumption has been at low single-digit levels since 2002 except in the years 2003 and 2006 with the completion of new buildings.

UST consumed 24.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2003, up by 9 percent from 2002 when consumption totaled 22.5 million kWh. Annual consumption for 2004 and 2005 grew by only 1.2 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

2006 saw power consumption jumping by 11 percent to 28.2 million kWh, enough to power more than 23,000 households that year. Last year, power consumption went up by only 4.5 percent to 29.5 million kWh.

Facilities Management Office (formerly Buildings and Grounds) Superintendent Oliver Gagarin noted that UST’s power consumption — the largest in the Sampaloc area — went up tremendously with the opening of the multi-level carpark which also houses fast-food chains and the UST-Alfredo M. Velayo College of Accountancy, and the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, in 2006. The Thomas Aquinas Research Complex opened in 2003.

Last year, however, the heaviest consumers were the Main Building with a monthly average of 195,652.6 kWh; the carpark (185,539.7 kWh); the St. Martin de Porres Building (135,647.6 kWh); the St. Albertus Magnus Building (132,300.5 kWh); and the Roque Ruaño Building (128,558.3 kWh). The Tan Yan Kee building, meanwhile, averaged 26,882.8 kWh, the lowest on the list.

For the whole campus, the average monthly consumption in 2007 was 2.45 million kWh.

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Generally, electricity consumption reaches peak during the summer months, when air-conditioning and other cooling devices are used heavily; and Christmas, when the country lights up for the holidays. But the case of UST is different.

The peak months are June, July, and August, when various orientations, general assemblies, and other fora are held in campus, Gagarin said.

Last year, April, October, and December registered the lowest consumption — around 2 million kWh or below the monthly average — simply because there were fewer people in the University during the summer, semestral, and Christmas vacations.

Electric bill

HIGHEST ENERGY CONSUMERS. Average monthly consumption (June 2007 - 2008). V Graphics by  Matthew Niel J. HebronaThe huge consumption is bound to show up on the monthly bill from the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

“The energy demand of the University is increasing each year, so technically, the bills will show higher rates,” Gagarin said.

In 2002, UST paid P115.6 million to Meralco. The bill went up to P146.6 million the following year. From 2004 to 2006, annual bill continued to increase, with payments reaching P152 million, P182 million, and P215 million, respectively. Last year, the University’s electric bill reached its peak when it paid almost P220 million for electricity.

This is because power rates passed on by Meralco have increased through the years. From only P5.14 per kWh in 2002, the rate went up to P7.46 per kWh in 2007.

UST is classified as a non-industrial service consumer. The generation rate or the price of electricity consumed is only P4.8754 per kWh but there are other charges: P298.65 per kilowatt (kW) for transmission, P141.87 per kW for distribution, a flat P655.33 a month for the supply charge, and P317.74 a month for metering. Also, UST pays 80 centavos per kWh for systems losses, part of which pays for pilferage.

The generation charges go to Meralco’s power suppliers, and the transmission charge to the government-owned company that transports electricity to Meralco from the power plants. Distribution, supply, and metering charges go to Meralco.

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UST pays a higher rate than ordinary households, and in fact subsidizes smaller consumers at a rate of 13 centavos per kWh. But UST’s rate is lower than that of heavy industrial users.

The energy fee collected from students every semester partly pays for UST’s monthly Meralco bill.

Elementary and Education High School students paid P1,687.50 last year, while UST High School students shelled out P2, 134.70. Meanwhile, college and students paid P900 each per semester.

A total of P37 million was collected during the first semester, and P30 million during the second semester, or a total of P67 million for the whole academic year.

Marissa Gonzales, assistant chief accountant of the University, said the energy fee is primarily for the use of airconditioning and lights, but also pays for maintenance and repair.

The energy fee has gone up this academic year. Elementary and Education High School students were required to pay P2,062.45 each, while UST High School charged P2,600 per student.

For college students, the rate is P1,100 per semester. In the Graduate School, students with seven units or more pay P1,100, while those with six units and below pay P550.

Officials clarified that students only pay for the use of electricity in the University, and this does not include the UST Hospital.

Alternatives?

Tourism junior Marie Cristel Peña complained: “Sometimes, the air-conditioners are not working properly.”

What the Facilities Management Office is doing is replacing old and inefficient air-conditioning units, which consume much power but do not work properly.

“Our office is currently replacing old air-conditioners in each building because maintaining such would be the same amount, or even higher than buying a new one,” Gagarin said. “At least, the new devices would be more efficient and more useful to students.”

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Alternative sources of power can lower the monthly electric bill, but Gagarin said there are no viable alternatives as of the moment.

“It is expensive to acquire and maintain such machines that will provide alternative energy sources. Also, a large space is needed if this will be pursued,” he added.

If solar energy would be tapped to power the campus, a a solar panel array as big as the parade grounds would adequately supply electricity to only one building. Purchasing solar panels is also costly since one panel costs around $16,000.

Compressed natural gas could be an alternative, but the pressure needed — 3,100 pounds per square inch — would emit hazardous gases. “It has a byproduct, which needs to be converted, along with other environmental constraints,” Gagarin said.

Save more

With UST’s power expenses growing by 26 percent in the first three months of 2007, the Vice-Rector for Finance issued a memorandum last August 23, urging the Thomasian community to conserve electricity by using daylight, switching off lights and air-conditioning units during breaks and dismissals, and replacing incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficientcompact fluorescent lights.

Yellow stickers were posted in all classrooms, to give Thomasians information on how the University can reduce energy costs.

The good thing is that prohibiting students from charging mobile phones won’t really do much to conserve electricity.

The only reason this was prohibited in the Quadricentennial Square, a popular hangout, is because of security reasons, or –– to prevent students from losing mobile phones to petty thieves.

“Charging of mobile phones in the first place does not actually consume that much electricity,” Gagarin said. Andrewly A. Agaton, Alphonsus Luigi E. Alfonso and Reniel B. Tiu

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