Open records recently obtained by The University Star revealed Texas State is on pace to spend nearly $8 million on electricity this academic year, a decrease in expenses from the previous two years despite expectations for an increase.
Academic years start in September and end the following August. Texas State's spending on utilities during 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-21 (through February 2021) go as follows:
AY 18-19: $8,810,994
AY 19-20: $8,426,679
AY 20-21 (through February 2021): $3,911,769
AY 18-19: $1,578,756
AY 19-20: $1,365,078
AY 20-21 (through February 2021): $756,439
AY 18-19: $1,427,040
AY 19-20: $1,337,457
AY 20-21 (through February 2021): $630,663
AY 18-19: $405,486
AY 19-20: $552,081
AY 20-21 (through February 2021): $261,492
Though the 20-21 academic year is still several months from ending, Texas State's spending thus far provides a glimpse into how much energy the university has used through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In AY 18-19, Texas State spent over $730,000 a month on electricity. In AY 19-20, Texas State spent over $700,000 a month on electricity.
In AY 20-21, through February 2021, the same month rolling blackouts from Winter Storm Uri took place, Texas State averaged over $650,000 a month on electricity — on pace to spend well over $7.8 million in total at the end of the academic year.
"[Our expenses per month for the remainder of the year are] expected to go up [compared to what the monthly average is so far this year]. We consume more electricity in the summer. Our peak months are going to be August and September and then probably falls by July, June and May. We use more more air conditioning in the summer, and that's our big, big load for power," says Jim Vollrath, director of Utilities Operations.
"With the campus traditionally being more occupied already in middle of August and then through September, which is still pretty hot. Those are usually our two highest months. June and July will still be more than what we consumed in January, in February."
Though costs to heat and cool buildings on campus increased after the onset of the pandemic, Vollrath says the university was willing to "sacrifice energy" for safety reasons. He initially believed Texas State "would end up spending more because of the onset of COVID."
"[We] initially thought to mitigate the spread of COVID indoors [we would have] to bring in as much outdoor air as possible," Vollrath says. "To put it in Layman's Terms, it takes a lot more energy to cool 95 or 100-degree outdoor air than it does recycle 75-degree outdoor air and keep on cooling that down."
The official utility spending amounts are more than the annual $7 million university officials told The Star Texas State spends a year on electricity, but only spending amounts dating back to AY 18-19 were requested.
Texas State is on pace to spend over $1.5 million on natural gas, more than AY 19-20 but slightly less than AY 18-19.
For the university's sanitary sewer, or toilet system, it is on pace to spend over $1.2 million, less than the previous two years.
The university will likely spend around $520,000 on water, less than AY 19-20 but more than AY 18-19.
ERCOT, the state's electrical grid operator under scrutiny for its lack of preparedness for the historic winter storm, recently called for consumers to conserve energy due to stress on the power grid.
Recent assessments revealed if the state experiences a heat wave or drought in addition to a high demand for power this summer, widespread power outages could happen again.
Payton Russell contributed to this story.