Larry Schuster, P.E.
Physical Plant Department
University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque serves
more than 30,000 students, faculty and staff on a campus
distinguished by Pueblo Revival architecture, a nationally
recognized arboretum, magnificent mesas to the west and
the Sandia Mountains to the east. In contrast to its scenic
setting, however, the energy infrastructure at UNM was not
a very pretty sight just a few years ago.
In 1994, campus steam, chilled-water and power systems
were in need of major repair, improvement and upgrading.
A study commissioned by the university that year showed
that Ford Utilities Center, UNM’s central heating and cooling
plant built in 1948, was inefficient and in poor condition.
Campus cooling demand exceeded capacity. UNM’s energy
management and control system was so outdated that parts
and technical support were no longer available for it. In
addition, energy procurement costs were high. The bottom
14 District Energy
line: Campus utility services were becoming unreliable (the
library lost power near finals week) and increasingly frequent
failures were looming. The cost to make all necessary energy
infrastructure improvements was estimated at $75 million to
$100 million. There was no ‘status quo’ option: Either the
system would need to be fixed or it would fail.
The magnitude of funding needed to revitalize UNM’s energy
systems was staggering. Over the next few years, the university
considered several means to resolve its energy infrastructure
problems, attempting to reconcile them with budget constraints
and campus growth. It was clear that traditional financing
sources, including appropriations from the State of New
Mexico’s capital budget, would be far from adequate. UNM
needed a non-traditional solution. It recognized that a busi-ness-oriented approach was required, uncommon in many