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Southern Oregon University dorms strain Ashland conservation program

Because Southern Oregon University's new large-scale dormitory and dining hall will be loaded with energy-saving features, it could drain all of Ashland's conservation rebate money — leaving no rebates for small and medium projects in town.

But the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a solution that will provide the promised rebates to SOU, while still funding rebates for smaller projects.

Money for energy conservation rebates normally comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which wholesales electricity to Ashland's electric department.

BPA gives about $170,000 annually to the city government for distribution to qualifying energy-saving projects.

The SOU project is expected to qualify for $180,000 in rebates.

The City Council unanimously agreed to fund the SOU rebates out of city coffers, while preserving the BPA funding for small and medium projects.

It's not certain yet whether those payments to SOU will cause the city to have to raise electric rates on residents, businesses and other entities in town.

The SOU energy-saving features could actually help protect Ashland from future BPA rate hikes, city staff members say.

Communities that don't rein in growing electricity use will face 35 percent higher rates on the increased use, Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg said.

"Anything we can do to avoid that is beneficial," he said.

SOU broke ground in April for two new residence halls and a dining center. The residence halls will be able to house 703 students and could be open in time for fall term 2013, campus officials said.

The residence halls will replace the 600-room Cascade Complex, which uses about 60 percent of the campus' steam-heating energy, SOU officials said.

Even with energy-saving features, the new residence halls will represent a significant electrical load increase on Ashland because they will not be heated with steam and will have air-conditioning, city staff said.

But the electrical load burden would be even higher without the conservation measures, city staff said.

Efficient heating, air conditioning, lighting and commercial kitchen systems will save up to 717,454 kilowatt hours annually, city staff said.

That amount of electricity would be consumed by 1,365 60-watt light bulbs burning continuously for a year, based on online information about electricity consumption.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.