Utilities participating in the program include Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Francisco; San Diego Gas & Electric, San Diego; Southern California Edison Co., Rosemead; and Southern California Gas, Los Angeles. With 23 campuses, California State University is leading the university effort.

The program consists of evaluating and retrofitting buildings and other facilities for better energy performance and training facilities staff to squeeze the most performance out of existing facilities. Len Pettis, CSU’s chief of Plant Energy and Utilities, estimates that about half of the $300 million will be spent on improving infrastructure to achieve conservation and half will go for building clean, ultra-clean and renewable power generation sources for campuses.

The university system has preapproved seven energy service companies to advise on how to meet campus energy needs. Companies will bid on a comprehensive design-build contracts for individual campuses. Those that do not win the contract will be paid for their time. "We see it as a partnership where we are fair with them and they are up-front with us and don’t pencil us to death later," says Haaziq Muhammad, a lead contract specialist for the CSU Chancellor’s office.

Each campus determines its own needs, Pettis says. A renovated facility at Sonoma State completed in December 2002, for example, replaces a traditional mechanical cooling system with 1,325 photovoltaic cells to run fans and evaporative-cooling equipment. The 106-kW facility cost approximately $7 million, with PG&E covering about half the cost.

"The cost savings have to be greater than the debt service starting in year one," says Marco Garcia, a major-accounts manager for Berkeley-based PowerLight Corp., which performed the technical design and economic analysis and facilitated a low-interest loan for the Sonoma State project. But Pettis maintains that photovoltaics are not cost effective over their 30-year lifespan without significant incentives. And since none of the campuses are located in good wind-generating areas, he will be looking at fuel cell technology as an alternative.

Four CSU campuses–Humboldt, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego–have power generation on site and Long Beach is planning a 15-MW combined-cycle natural-gas plant. "We would like to move away from fossil fuel eventually, but right now, it is still the most cost-effective way to generate power," Pettis says.

esponding to a December state executive order to "reduce grid-based energy purchases by 20% by 2015," a partnership between California’s public universities and investor-owned utilities will spend up to $300 million to reduce energy use on all 33 campuses in the utility service areas.