CSU nets $67,903 rebate for energy-efficient Powerhouse Energy Campus expansion

Julia Rentsch

Where once there was a decrepit 1930s-era coal-fired power plant, which could boast no heating, central air or even bathrooms, now stands a landmark to sustainability and energy efficiency with features never before seen on a construction project of its scale.

This building is Colorado State University’s Powerhouse Energy Campus, where LEED Platinum-certified renovations were completed in 2014. The project recently earned its designers a $67,903 rebate check via Fort Collins Utilities’ Integrated Design Assistance Program, which was presented Oct. 30.

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Completed in 2014, the Powerhouse Energy Campus remodel added 65,000 square feet of LEED Platinum-certified lab, office and community space. (Photo credit: Julia Rentsch.)
Completed in 2014, the Powerhouse Energy Campus remodel added 65,000 square feet of LEED Platinum-certified lab, office and community space. (Photo credit: Julia Rentsch.)

“(IDAP’s) purpose is to help, especially in the design phase of a building project, to make the project more efficient, because that’s really where the action is,” said Gary Schroeder, Fort Collins Utilities energy services engineer. “It’s a lot easier to design an efficient building from the ground up than to try and fix one after it’s built, which is what we’re tasked with doing quite often.”

More than 30 high-performance buildings around town have had assistance from Fort Collins Utilities, which provides incentives for the design and performance of buildings to incorporate energy-saving techniques before any hard lines are drawn in the plans. CSU’s Rockwell Hall, Laurel Village, Academic Village and the Behavioral Sciences Building are among others that Fort Collins Utilities worked on in this capacity.

“We encourage an integrated design approach, because when you get the owner and the architect and the engineers, the future building occupants and all those people together in one place early in the design communicating, some magic happens and it’s pretty cool,” Schroeder said.

During the project, which began in 2011, the team incorporated energy-efficient features into the building with an emphasis on maximizing the Powerhouse building’s thermal regulation, use of alternative energy and ventilation.

Nick Echter, a mechanical engineer at C-zero Carbon Neutral Solutions, works on a project. C-zero is co-located at the CSU Powerhouse Campus. (Photo credit: Julia Rentsch.)
Nick Echter, a mechanical engineer at C-zero Carbon Neutral Solutions, works on a project. C-zero is co-located at the CSU Powerhouse Campus. (Photo credit: Julia Rentsch.)

“So there are some subtle things that, when you walk through the building, the typical person wouldn’t notice,” Schroeder said. “There’s extra insulation in the building, it’s very airtight and (it has) high-performance windows.”

Those triple-glazed, double-paned windows with fiberglass frames, for example, help maximize the building’s ability to regulate heat by nearly tripling their insulating ability over conventional aluminum-framed, single-pane windows.

“Between (using) this kind of glass and the fiberglass frame, it’s a much more high-performance window,” Schroeder said. “And so, the windows, instead of being a weak point in the wall, are more in line with the rest of the wall (in terms of heat retention).”

According to Liz Witte, an employee of the Energy Institute, which is housed in the Powerhouse, the building’s thermostat is even connected to the Internet so it knows the weather forecast and can regulate the indoor environment accordingly as the temperatures change.

Additionally, four vertical-axis wind turbines collect power, which is saved to batteries and is used to power the building’s control room.

“These turbines are a nice link between our history of old-energy coal-fired power plant to new energy. They are the same size and shape and dimensions and same locations as the original smokestacks of the powerhouse,” Witte said.

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Fort Collins Utilities executive director Kevin Gertig emphasized the four utilities services his workplace deals in — water, wastewater, storm water and light and power — as focus areas that work in concert to affect the building’s energy efficiency.

“When you then look at the sum of that… it demonstrates what you can do if you really do your homework up front on a renovation,” Gertig said. “So that’s just one of the messages that I’ll say as executive director, that it’s not just looking at electric again, it’s all four utilities, so it’s looking at that holistically.”

The entranceway to the Powerhouse building connects the new to the old. (Photo by Julia Rentsch).
The entranceway to the Powerhouse building connects the new to the old. (Photo credit: Julia Rentsch.)

Lisa Rosintoski, Fort Collins Utilities customer connections manager, emphasized connections between the project goals and the city’s Climate Action Plan.

“What we’re trying to do is build programs that result in a portfolio, which is everything that gets to the metrics that we’re trying to achieve for energy efficiency that are aligned with our Climate Action Plan and our energy policy,” Rosintoski said. “Programs like this demonstrate that success shows the momentum that we all can go through to get there, and so a project like this becomes a testimonial that characterizes ‘yes, you can do it.'”

The architecture firm that built the Powerhouse renovation, The Neenan Company, was presented with the 2015 Urban Design Award for sustainable design by the City of Fort Collins in September for their work on the Powerhouse.

Schroeder said energy-efficient design is now a priority for most design firms.

“I think there’s been a big turnaround in the design industry, and it’s hard — I don’t think you could find an architectural firm that doesn’t have a LEED-accredited professional on their staff, if not all the architects,” Schroeder said.

Gertig said CSU’s involvement with the Powerhouse building has been formative in its transformation.

“When CSU took that over, you know, working with design engineers and consultants, what they’ve done with that building is nothing less than incredible,” Gertig said. “Having a program such as this, that’s an icon because there’s such an international influence, too. I mean, there’s scientists and engineers from all over the world going to that laboratory to learn, not only on engine technology and all the other things Dr. Willson and his team are doing, but a variety of research, so it’s a great place to be able to learn from others.”

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @julia_rentsch.