The energy-reduction fund, financed by the student sustainability fee, received applications requesting the most money in the fund’s history in fall 2012. However, students only applied for two loans for energy-reduction projects. Students also applied for seven grants.
“When the initial process and the bylaws were adopted, it wasn’t anticipated that it would be as difficult for students to identify projects as it has been,” said Rosi Keller, associate vice president for administration and finance. Keller oversees the fund.
The fund, Kless Revolving Energy Loan Fund, forms part of the University of Montana’s sustainability plan. Students initiated its design, and Keller thinks the fund has a well-designed purpose. Funded projects reimburse the pot of money with savings from energy bills.
The fund received 20 loan applications over five semesters but could pay out more based on the amount of funding that has accumulated. Currently, the fund holds about $230,000. Past project loans rarely exceeded $10,000.
KRELF also pays out sustainability-related grants, which do not have to be paid back. However, it was really designed to issue loans for energy-saving projects that have expensive up-front costs.
The rigorous application process may explain why a limited number of applications are submitted. The committee overseeing KRELF has been considering bylaw changes that might increase submissions, as well as opening KRELF to a wider range of project types to encourage more applications.
“We’re doing fine, but I think I would like to see an increase,” said Eva Rocke, ASUM Sustainability Coordinator.
One of the changes the KRELF Committee has made is adjusting the application dates. An initial application is due late in the semester, but a final version is due after the end-of-semester crunch.
Last year, the committee also extended the pay-off period for loans from six to 10 years, making it easier for a project to reimburse the fund and pay for itself.
The KRELF committee believes students should have a real-life, work-relevant experience in making an application.
“[Students] have few opportunities, from my perspective, to really do a hands-on, concrete proposal like this — where they draft a proposal, they do all the research, they connect with professionals on our campus,” Rocke said.
Still, applications are highest when students are required to make one for a course. Only a few professors incorporate an application into their curriculum.
The two recent applications for energy-reduction loans were efficiency measures for the HVAC system of the student recreation center for $71,400 and an insulation audit of the Lommasson Center for $22,626. Both projects await approval. The applications for seven grants total $70,120.
In fall 2011, 12,830 students chose to pay the sustainability fee, compared to 10,806 in fall 2012, according to a rough tally provided by the UM Office of Administration and Finance. In spring 2011, 8,500 students paid the fee, and in spring 2012, 7,575 students opted in.
Alex Chandler, a senior accounting and finance major who pays the $4 sustainability fee, believes the fee should be increased — and mandatory. He also believes more visible projects are important for UM to meet its sustainability ambitions.
“Having an example you can see helps you learn,” Chandler said.
Chandler recently applied for a KRELF grant for a water bottle refill station in the business school.
Some students on campus support sustainability but do not support paying the optional fee.
“Public universities are just that: public,” said Patrick Wayne, a junior majoring in political science with a public administration emphasis. “And thus should be affordable. The economic impact of climate change should not rest on the student’s increasing education debt load.”
Because the sustainability fee and KRELF fund could potentially sunset in 2014, they will come up for student review to determine whether they should be continued. KRELF is halfway through the initial time period it was approved for.
“Any time a new process is established, you have to give it some time to evaluate its effectiveness, regardless of what that process is for,” Rosi Keller said.
Students considering submitting a KRELF application should contact Eva Rocke in the ASUM Sustainability Center.