UW System heating plants under threat of privatization
Gov. Scott Walker is seeking to sell Wisconsin’s 37 power plants located at state facilities. His plan is to use the money to fund a part of his two-year $6.4 billion transportation plan.
In Walker’s plan to regain money for the state’s budget, UW-River Falls’ heating plant would be put up for sale. This plant heats the University buildings and provides hot water throughout the entire campus.
As a state owned heating plant, it is currently tax exempt. However, Mike Stifter, the Interim Executive Director for the Division of Administrative Services said that shifting the ownership to the private sector could affect cost.
“Because we don’t have any other option, it all comes from one source. It’s not like we can say, that’s too expensive we’re going to choose one of these other vendors. Our only vendor is whoever buys the plant,” Stifter said.
Right now, revenues for the plant come from student room and board fees and student segregated fees.
Bill Girnau who is the power plant superintendent at UWRF said he and his employees ask themselves how they would run the heating plant differently if they were a private company.
“We’re down to bare-bones. We could compete with anybody as far as I’m concerned. So it would be interesting to see somebody come in and see what they would offer to take over and run the plant,” Girnau said.
However, Girnau added that if a private company could run the heating plant the same way or better than the current state workers, he would not have a problem with it.
Kelly Cain, who is the director at the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, brought up another issue with the privatization of the UWRF heating plant. He said he’s worried that a private company may not be environmentally conscious.
“I could imagine we would pay that extra dollar in order to get the carbon reduction and to meet our intentions and commitments, where a company is going to see that dollar difference in fuel as lost profit,” Cain said.
The environment is a big factor to UWRF as it is one of 700 schools to have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.
This makes the University responsible for keeping track of the greenhouse gas footprint for the entire campus.
“Ours is one of the most aggressive climate action plans in the country. We’re only one of three schools in the country that have tracked our greenhouse gas footprint all the way back to 1990 through 2011,” Cain said.
So far the climate action plan has been working. For the past two years, UWRF has been the No. 1 campus in the UW System for energy efficiency.