REVOLVING LOAN PAYS LEED GOLD DIVIDENDS

By: Liz Ivkovich, Global Change & Sustainability Center

The building that is home to the College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a LEED Gold certification after the building’s latest upgrade – the installation of a solar panel array on the roof. These upgrades were made possible through the support of the university’s Revolving Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans to help reduce carbon emissions on campus.

The architect for the $24-million renovation, Derrick Larm, said the new 34.2-kilowatt solar panel system, which was installed earlier this year and is comprised of four separate panels on the roof, provides an additional 5 percent energy-cost savings per year for the building. The Rio Tinto Kennecott building now is one of seven U buildings on campus with the Gold certification.

The LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification rating by the U.S. Green Building Council for highly efficient, cost-effective green buildings. The Rio Tinto building at 1495 E. 100 South originally achieved a Silver rating when the renovation of the 65-year-old structure was completed in 2015. The Revolving Loan Fund was able to provide the up-front costs for the rooftop solar energy project, which enabled the project to achieve enough credits to earn LEED Gold Certification.

What began as a 54,000-square-foot building built in the 1950s for Kennecott Utah Copper Corp.’s research offices has now become a 76,000-square-foot U lab space with the latest in energy-saving technology and safety features.

The building now has energy-efficient elevators, a chilled beam system for air conditioning and a heating system that use much less energy, new walls and braces for earthquake stabilization, a horizontal fire shutter above the atrium designed to stop the spread of a fire, and a new pedestrian walkway called “Job’s Crossing” that connects the building to the rest of campus for safer pedestrian traffic.

“It’s a complete renovation, and it’s amazing that we took something that had no insulation and get it to a place where it is performing 40 percent better than a code-compliant building,” Larm said. “The swing in energy efficiency is just enormous.”

All told, these energy upgrades will save the building 32 percent in annual energy costs, he added. The Revolving Loan Fund helped to off-set the cost of making these changes to the building.

The Revolving Loan Fund operates by fronting the extra incremental costs often associated with energy efficiency or renewable energy. Often the initial costs of these on-campus projects—such as solar panels and high efficiency water heaters—can be a barrier for the University, even if the project will save money over its lifetime. After the project is complete, the loan is paid back to the fund through savings accrued in reduced energy costs to the university. In addition, after the loan is paid back (typically 8-15 years), the university benefits from those savings for the remaining life of the equipment (usually 25 years).

“Not only does the university save money and reduce carbon emissions through the fund, but the returns on investment are plowed right back into other projects for decades to come,” said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer. “The fund is also one of only a few student fee-based revolving loan funds in the country. It is unique on campus in that student fees and donations provide annual funding like an endowment, while returns from previous project investments grow the available pool exponentially. It is the fund that literally keeps on giving.”