Feature Articles

Persistence drives sustainability at Nicolet Area Technical College

October 01, 2015 | Wisconsin Public Service

This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Energy News, a publication of Wisconsin Public Service (WPS). It is re-published here with permission.

With thousands of students and visitors in their facilities, Nicolet Area Technical College has a unique opportunity to promote energy efficiency and sustainability. And they've capitalized on it in a big way.

"We are forward thinkers, always looking for ways to improve efficiency and our environmental footprint," said Pete Vanney, Nicolet College Director of Facilities. "One of our major undertakings was a multi-year plan to green up our campus."

Since 2009, Nicolet College has remodeled and made additions to many of its academic buildings, with the help of more than $18,000 in Focus on Energy incentives. Improvements include:

  • installing automated lighting systems;
  • adding occupancy sensors;
  • upgrading HVAC;
  • adding insulation; and
  • upgrading electrical and plumbing infrastructure.

"We tackled this project one building a time," Vanney said. "It was a persistent effort that we knew would pay off."

And it did. Nicolet College achieved impressive results:

  • improvements helped reduce electric and natural gas consumption at the University Transfer Center by 35%;
  • after a 9,000-square-foot addition and an energy-efficiency remodel at the Northwoods Center, electric and natural gas costs only increased by less then 2%;
  • three campus facilities earned LEED certification, and Nicolet College became the first higher-education facility in Wisconsin to receive LEED Gold Certification.

Benchmarking is essential to understanding and improving energy performance. Nicolet College uses the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager to help monitor and manage electric and gas use.

"We have made great strides in managing energy use and controlling costs," Vanney said. "Moving forward, we will continue to monitor our performance and look for other strategies to implement."

Nicolet College's commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability is also evident in the community. The college works with local partners on stewardship projects and other efforts. Additionally, the Rhinelander campus is home to an EcoVillage, which includes a 10-kilowatt wind turbine, two solar photovoltaic arrays and a renewable-energy learning center.

Ongoing Efforts

"We work closely with Tim Hintz, our WPS Account Executive," Vanney said. "He keeps us informed of energy incentives, informational webinars and other tools we can use to save energy."

One strategy is participating in WPS's NatureWise® Renewable Energy Program, covered in part by voluntary employee contributions. Nicolet College's Sustainability Professional Learning Community also plays an important role in its continued commitment to saving energy.

"The Sustainability Professional Learning Community models some important behaviors and helps educate and encourage others to make environmentally wise choices," Vanney said. "Using a variety of outreach methods, the group keeps people excited about sustainability."