By Stephen Huebl
As the first winter of Ontario’s era of deregulated energy looms, Ryerson is bracing itself against potential soaring energy costs.
Last year Ryerson spent $2.9 million in energy bills, which accounted for over half of its total utility costs.
For the 2002-2003 year, Ryerson has budgeted $3.3 million for power based on increased consumption by a larger student body, the addition of the Center for Graphic Communications Management and the Sally Horsfall Eaton Centre, and a projected seven per cent increase in the cost of electricity.
Donald Dewees, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto who helped to design Ontario’s deregulated energy market, said trying to predict the rate of power price increases is no sure thing.
“It’s not easy to predict,” he said. “Universities will eventually figure out a process where they budget what they think they’ll spend and some years it will be too little, and some years it will be too much.”
If prices rise by more than seven per cent, Ryerson’s budget could quickly be pushed into a deficit.
Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse said the school was prepared for whatever the deregulated market might hold this winter.
“We are confident that seven per cent is enough,” he said. “That is a pretty stiff increase when you realize that our funding is flat.”
Howard Hampton, leader of the provincial NDP party, predicted that the deregulated market, combined with a lack of funding, would put the pinch on Ontario universities.
“Universities and colleges are all going to face some pretty difficult budgetary situations this winter,” he said in an interview.
“Ontario is in a worse situation than California,” he said. “Ontario can easily see the kinds of very high power prices during December, January, February and March that we saw during the summer.”
Rick Pews, manager of operations and maintenance at Ryerson, said deregulation of the electricity market shouldn’t affect Ryerson’s utility costs too drastically, thanks in large part to the ongoing installation of energy saving devices.
“Ryerson is an enviable position compared to other institutions because of the initiatives we’ve put in place,” he said.
Pews said starting in 1994 every light fixture on campus was retrofitted with efficient fluorescent lights that produce more light but use less energy.
The ventilation controls and fan speeds were upgraded to allow for variable speeds rather than constant blowing, and occupancy sensors were installed in most classrooms that automatically turn off the lights when it detects there are no people in the room.
Pews said a cooling system involving electric and absorption chillers, installed in 1997, is also a major energy saver. He described the absorption chillers as a “big chemistry set” that converts heat from steam to create chilled water.
“When the [electricity] rates are cheaper, we can switch the system over to use the electric chillers,” he said.
“The system is fairly unique and is not found in too many institutions.”
Pews said these initiatives save about 1,200 kilowatt hours per year, or about $1 million worth of energy.
The Ontario Government opened up the electricity market in May, allowing customers to switch over to a retailer or stay with their current hydro provider.
Prices are now billed at a spot market price that is reviewed hourly and can vary depending upon the fluctuating state of the energy market.
Hampton said the only solution to this problem is to stop power deregulation.
“Rather than fooling around and having classes taught at midnight to escape peak power prices, the industry should be in government hands and it should be carefully regulated.”