NMSU sees big savings so far thanks to energy performance contract

By: Adriana M. Chavez, 575-646-1957,

Just 10 months into an energy performance contract between New Mexico State University and energy services company Ameresco, the university has seen big savings so far in its utility bills.

NMSU Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing director Patrick Chavez said so far, the campus has seen about 17 percent in savings in the campus’ electrical use, and about 25 percent in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Contract work is still being conducted, but Chavez said he expects that the university’s project savings will meet or exceed the contract’s guaranteed 17 percent savings.

Chavez said that through June, the university has seen about $1.32 million in savings thanks to the contract.

“We’re trending in a positive manner,” Chavez said. “We’re seeing benefits but we won’t officially know how we’re performing until mid-November, when the contract is considered delivered.”

Dale Harrell, university engineer for NMSU’s Facilities Planning and Development, said the university’s contract with Ameresco has seen benefits beyond money savings. Out of four work crews that were hired to perform contract work, three crews were based in Las Cruces. Several members of those crews have since been hired for work outside of New Mexico.

Chavez said the university’s contract with Ameresco is one of the largest performance contracts in the state, and NMSU is often cited as an example by state officials of what other agencies in New Mexico could be doing to make their facilities more energy efficient.

joni newcomer, manager of environmental policy and sustainability at NMSU, said the project has “changed how the faculty, staff and students at NMSU understand energy use.”

“During the upgrades and retrofits of the lighting and mechanical systems we took the opportunity to explain why saving energy and lowering our greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere changes the future of our planet,” newcomer said. “As educators and students I think that it really hit home.”

The NMSU Board of Regents voted last year to approve NMSU’s energy performance contract with Ameresco. The contract allows NMSU to make improvements to 48 buildings, totaling nearly 3 million gross square feet. The proposed improvements were based on seven energy conservation measures indicated by Ameresco during a seven-month-long investment-grade audit of all NMSU properties throughout the state, including the agricultural science centers and community colleges.

Harrell said NMSU has 13 years to pay off the $15.7 million bond to pay for the projects, which range from installing new lighting and solar panels to replacing heating and cooling systems. NMSU will use its annual energy savings to pay off the bond.

Harrell also pointed out that the contract work is guaranteed. If the university doesn’t see the savings Ameresco has projected, then Ameresco will pay the difference. He said the contract was the only way to change energy performance in the university’s aging infrastructure and see any cost savings.

In all, Ameresco’s audit identified $45 million in potential energy-related projects. Chavez said the university decided to move forward on a select group of those projects in order to prove the concept.

“We didn’t want to take on more than we were comfortable with,” Chavez said. “We will assess the viability of future project phases once the official performance numbers are observed.”