November 1, 2011
College taps into management of energy usage
SUNY Cortland creates new job, the first in SUNY system, to oversee its power consumption
Douglas Roll is accustomed to transitions, like the one that has brought him to a newly created position as SUNY Cortland’s energy manager.
He started out as a middle school biology teacher in Queens, switched to mechanical engineering and managed a coal-fired power plant in Seneca County.
When natural gas put a dent in the coal industry as a way to generate electricity, and the plant closed, he looked for something else.
The college hired Roll to help the campus make the transition from a central campus steam plant to individual natural gas boilers at buildings, and to educate students, staff and faculty about conserving energy.
His job as energy manager is the first one in the State University of New York system. He started on Oct. 17 and commutes from Geneva.
SUNY Cortland, meanwhile, had begun to shift its campus energy system from the decades-old steam plant next to Old Main, to individual energy-efficient boilers in buildings.
The position created to manage this transition also carried the potential for teaching, which appealed to Roll.
“With the distribution of heat from the central plant, the system loses 7 to 10 percent of its heat, and we can’t afford that,” said Timothy Slack, physical plant director, as he and Roll sat Monday in Roll’s office. “The current plant will not get 90 percent efficiency. The new boilers will have 95 percent efficiency and the heat they lose will stay in the building.”
Slack said the college’s natural gas usage, which costs $2.5 million per year, will be cut by one-third or just over $800,000.
He said it was worth it for SUNY Cortland to create Roll’s position, to watch over a $4.5 million utility budget.
Roll may also teach as well. He is planning workshops and seminars for the campus community, which had already begun in recent years to cut energy use through a number of initiatives. He said American society is already pushing for a drop in carbon dioxide emissions and more efficiency.
“People coming out of college are the next leaders, and this college is a great teacher of teachers, who can carry the message to schools,” he said.
Roll said teaching in a middle school was not as enjoyable as he had expected, since he spent more time on classroom management, after graduating from Queens College in 1977.
A few of his friends were engineers and he realized how much he liked to work with machinery.
“There were fun parts but it didn’t look like something I could support a family on,” he said of his teaching position at St. Gabriel’s School. “There were not a lot of opportunities in the late 1970s and the salaries were not great.”
He enrolled at Cornell University and received another bachelor’s degree, this time in mechanical engineering. Some of his liberal arts credits from Queens College transferred, which helped ease his course load.
He became a project manager for New York State Electric and Gas, working in various engineering and supervisory positions, then became operations manager of NYSEG’s Greenridge Station in Dresden, Seneca County. He rose to become plant manager when NYSEG sold the plant to AES Corp. in 1999, holding that job for 12 years.
But electric rates from plants powered by coal rose too high and the price of coal rose with it, as coal companies shipped more of their product overseas. Power plants that used natural gas offered lower rates.
Even with a $50 million upgrade in pollution controls and the creation of a $9 million biomass cofiring project, the plant struggled to make money.
Roll left AES Corp. and worked as a consultant. He wanted to remain in Geneva, where his family is and where he works as a referee for football on the high school, college and semiprofessional levels, officiates high school lacrosse and coaches youth hockey.
“This position seemed really interesting because it would use my experience with power plant management and the supply side,” Roll said. “At the same time, I would learn more about the demand side. Maybe I would be able to teach too. That was appealing.”
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