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Program to conserve energy, save money

A new student-led project to promote sustainable-energy use will be testing the waters on Western’s campus this fall. Funded by the Sustainable Action Fund grant, which all Western students' tuition pays into, Project RENT aims to educate off-campus students about how to conserve energy in their homes and reduce their monthly energy bills. Project RENT, which stands for Reducing ENergy with Tenants, was founded by graduate student Stefanie Neale, 23, and fifth-year senior Joey Cilinceon, 22. Both are studying fields related to energy and sustainability. Cilinceon and Neale were Eco Reps in Buchanan Towers when they were freshmen at Western, Cilinceon said. “We notice there [wasn’t similar energy programs] for off campus,” Neale said. “We wanted to have a program that reached out to these students who are now transitioning into their own homes, where they are actually paying energy bills.” Assistant professor Thomas Webler of Western’s environmental studies department and junior Kate Thompson are also project coordinators. Project RENT is a pilot program. The success of the project, over the course of this this fall, will determine whether it becomes a permanent program or not, Neale said. The project’s goal is to get a minimum of 200 households involved by the end of the quarter, Neale said. Nick Altberg, one of the project’s lead conservation educators, said they will discuss energy efficiency dependent on each individual’s household. The educators will teach students how to reduce energy and money depending the type of heating system they have in their house, Altberg said. Conservation educators will teach students how to read their energy bills and also be able to connect students with local resources, Neale said. Students will present their initial energy bill to the conservation educator in the first meeting. This way the conservation educator can track how much energy each household conserved over the course of project’s pilot period, Cilinceon said. The three households that conserve the most energy over the course of fall will receive a $100 gift card. Gift cards will be for places where students can purchase items that will continue their conservation of energy, Neale said. Part of the project’s mission serves to help off-campus students save money on their energy bills, Neale said. She explained that many of the houses off campus are old and inefficient, causing students to pay more than they should. The project also aims to provide an opportunity for students and the community to reduce their environmental impact, Neale said. “By reducing their energy use and being more efficient with their energy, they can become a part of the greater effort towards mitigating climate change,” Cilinceon said. Neale emphasized how convenient the project has made it to get involved, highlighting nine students who are also a part of Project RENT. The nine students serve as “conservation educators.” They are either being paid or receiving credit for their work through the environmental studies department, Neale said. Conservation educators have been trained by Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas, Neale said. These students were selected based off of specific criteria that the project was looking for, such as a desire to learn more about energy sustainability and related course and work experience, Cilinceon said. “We want the students who are working for us to come out of this [program] with a good understanding and confidence in energy efficiency,” Neale said. Last year, about 12,500 of the 15,060 students enrolled were living off campus, according to Western’s quick fact sheet regarding enrollment. With this project, Cilinceon wanted to help some of those off-campus students.

(From left to right) Nathan Wilks, Stephanie Neale, Joey Cilinceon and Kate Thompson stand behind their Project Rent table at the Climatefest info fair on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
“We really want student involvement,” Cilinceon said. “That’s what is going to lift this program off the ground and keep it going next year.”

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