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Western remains energy efficient despite an unexpected rise in natural gas rates

Western U.S. natural gas rates rose in January

Trees shadow the morning sun from the south side of Alma Clark Glass Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. Built in 2021, ACG is Western’s newest residence hall. // Photo by Ben Stainbrook

Natural gas supplied to Western through the Sumas Terminal experienced an unexpected rate increase in January going from $8.00/MMBtu (million British thermal units) to $45.25/MMBtu according to Amanda Cambre, the sustainability director at Western.

“Much of that is dependent on weather, but behavior plays a big part in that as well,” Cambre said in an email.

Constant surges and resurges in energy prices serve as consistent reminders for people to educate themselves on how to use energy more efficiently, whether it be natural gas, electricity, coal or other sources.

“While energy prices rise, remember that it’s not rates we pay but bills,” said Assistant Professor Imran Sheikh from Western’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Institute for Energy Studies at Western in an email. “If prices go up, but we become more efficient in our use of energy, we can actually pay less.”

As students at Western are often dealing with a busy school day, it is difficult to think about where they use the most energy over a 24-hour period.

“One of the ways to understand how we can save energy on campus is to know where we spend energy on campus,” said Assistant Professor Froylan Sifuentes from Western's Department of Environmental Sciences and Institute for Energy Studies. “Using energy more efficiently is probably – if not certainly – the most cost-effective way to save money, reduce gas emissions and meet energy demand.”

A resource for data regarding energy use and costs at Western is the Energy Dashboard. This public trove of information presents annual usage numbers, cost data and emissions statistics for different utilities used by the university and its members.

“Western is very efficient, thanks to the work of Facilities Development and Operations building efficient new buildings and operating existing buildings as efficiently as possible,” Cambre said. “We are likely going to be compliant with the WA Clean Buildings Act standards once our compliance period begins.”

While many students at Western don’t know much about energy emissions, there are some who do think about their effects on a daily basis.

“How I’ve lately been conserving energy is instead of driving I will walk or take the bike,” said Zachary Connor, a second-year student at Western. Connor is majoring in business and sustainability and lives in Alma Clark Glass Hall, the newest residence hall at Western.

Having taken various classes on the topic, Connor frequently thinks about his daily energy use. 

“I think a lot of energy consumption that people might not consider is within what we consume,” he said. “It takes energy to produce our cell phones, it takes energy to produce our clothes, it takes energy to produce prepackaged water.”

Education is the first step to understanding what’s behind the energy curtain. 

“The habits and lessons students learn while at Western will carry through their careers and home lives and make them better stewards of resources professionally and personally,” Cambre said.

Ben Stainbrook

Ben Stainbrook (he/him) is a campus news reporter for the The Front during the 2022-2023 winter quarter at Western. He is a second-year student and is planning to major in visual journalism. Away from reporting, he enjoys taking photographs, playing games and making music. 

You can message him

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