By Julia Oller | Echo
As the Taylor campus expands its geographical footprint, the university seeks to minimize its carbon footprint. Buildings like Euler and Breuninger boast sustainability, and the turbines twirling next to the Euler Science Center are a visible reminder of Taylor's commitment to stewarding the earth.
But in recent months, mechanical problems and mysterious rust-colored stains have raised questions about the turbines' purpose. These issues, along with the ongoing Breuninger wetlands issue and confusion over the geothermal system led The Echoto examine sustainability in Taylor facilities.
Affectionately known as the "Olson Twins," Taylor's turbines save the university approximately 12 percent of Euler's total electricity bill: some $18,000 to $20,000 per year, according to vice president of business administration Ron Sutherland. However, Taylor's website claims the turbines provide 18 percent of the building's energy needs.
Since the turbines were built in 2011, lightning strikes have damaged their internal components several times, even though the turbines are equipped with lightning rods. They are under a five-year warranty, but because lightning is considered "an act of God," the university is responsible for paying for parts.
When the warranty runs out in two years, the university will have to pay an annual fee to repair the turbines. Sutherland said he has been working on finding a qualified firm to take over turbine maintenance. ECI Wind and Solar, the company that installed the turbines, closed shortly after completing the project.
Many mistake the orange streaks coating the blades for rust. Euler's facility director and program coordinator, Kassie Jahr, said the marks are actually grease stains. For unknown reasons, the grease lubricating the machinery leaks out as the blades spin.
Due to the turbines' size and shape, cleaning the blades presents a major challenge. Jahr said that although a technician attempted to wipe them down on his last visit, a complete scrub requires someone trained to rappel over the side of the blades.
Holloway said that while the turbines contribute to energy efficiency, they were not purchased with return on investment as the primary reasoning.
Instead, they provide a valuable research opportunity for faculty and students. They are also one piece in the equation for Euler's LEED gold certification, an achievement acknowledging the building's many renewable features, like the rooftop garden and solar panels.
David McMath, project manager for the building, said the LEED certification is a remarkable achievement because of the challenge of efficiently heating and cooling the building. While traditional buildings recirculate air continuously, Euler's system brings in air only once before expelling it back outside. Potentially harmful chemicals used in experiments require a constant supply of fresh air.
To improve the energy efficiency of the HVAC system, Euler utilizes an open-loop geothermal system. Taylor administrators were under the impression that the geothermal would both heat and cool the building, according to Jahr.
However, officials from the Hagerman Group and Vector Consulting, the firms responsible for the geothermal system's design, said that the system was never intended to heat Euler.
"(The) geothermal was designed for the cooling side only," McMath said.
Breuninger Hall also includes a geothermal system. Because it is a smaller building that operates on a closed-loop system-in which water pipes use the temperature of Taylor Lake to regulate building temperature-the geothermal system both heats and cools the residence hall.
Although Breuninger is one of the most energy-efficient dorms on campus, a piece of the parking lot sitting on state-protected wetlands, necessitating an ongoing reconstruction program to replace it.
"We could have torn up the parking lot and put (the wetlands) back, but we chose to take an additional piece over by Randall which is perfectly acceptable (to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management)," Sutherland said.
Michael Guebert, chair of the Earth and Environmental Science Department, has monitored the area behind Randall for over 10 years in hopes of eventually constructing an educational wetland.
"It seems the mistake at Breuninger has turned into a positive outcome for the wetland mitigation behind Randall," Guebert said.
Although the sustainability forecast may appear cloudy, Taylor's attempts to remedy sustainability issues like the windmill grease and Breuninger wetlands prove that there are still silver linings.