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Campus Energy Basics

Washington College gets all of its electricity from Delmarva Power, which purchases electricity from plants that generate power by burning coal or natural gas. Energy costs have doubled at WC in the past year, but prices on the Western Shore will jump as much as 75% in the next year. In Maryland, 58% of our energy needs are provided by coal, 26% from nuclear, 7% from oil, and 2% from natural gas.

In light of rising energy costs, the state of Maryland is beginning to look to alternatives to traditional forms of energy. Governor Ehrlich proposed expanding funding for grants which would provide residents with funds to install solar energy equipment in their homes. Even the White House has solar panels on the roof. Alternately, Delmarva Power offers customers the opportunity to purchase their energy from alternative sources such as solar and wind and have the power routed to their home by Delmarva Power.

Heating and More

Only the newer buildings on the north end of campus rely solely on electricity for heating. While all of the buildings use electricity for lighting, the newer buildings also use electricity for temperature control and for heating water. All of the air conditioners use electricity, as do the washers and dryers and other appliances.

Older buildings at Washington College are heated with steam, generated in our power plant. The college has three steam boilers which rotate throughout the year, two in winter and one in summer. The boilers burn bunker fuel (a petroleum product) to produce steam, which is then pumped through underground pipes to each building. Each building has a boiler room which regulates heat and heats water for the building with steam.


Lighting on campus comes in a variety of forms: incandescent bulbs, T-12 fluorescent bulbs, T-8 fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), metal halide bulbs, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Most of the lights in older residence hall rooms are T-12 fluorescent bulbs. A fluorescent bulb “uses electricity to excite mercury vapor in argon or neon gas, resulting in a plasma that produces short-wave ultraviolet light… [which] then causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing visible light.”1 While that may be too much information for most, it is for this reason that fluorescent bulbs require less electricity than incandescent bulbs, which use a filament to create light. The amount of electricity used to power a bulb is measured in watts, so a 60-watt incandescent consumes 60 watts of electricity. Most of the energy used in incandescent bulbs is wasted as heat. By comparison, a compact fluorescent light bulb that emits the same number of lumens as a 60 watt incandescent uses about 15 watts, and will last up to 15,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours for an incandescent.

To identify light bulbs: tube fluorescent lights, used by the college in most dorm rooms and classrooms, are either T-12 or T-8, the newer and more energy efficient version. Bulbs are marked with numbers F##T##, F for fluorescent, followed by the number of watts or sometimes the length of the bulb. The T number refers to the diameter of the bulb in eighths of an inch. For example, F32T8 refers to a T-8 bulb that uses 32 watts. A T-12 uses 34 watts, while a T-8 uses 32 and is manufactured with energy conservation in mind.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) are made specifically to replace incandescent bulbs in screw-base lamps. As mentioned above, they are much more energy efficient and their longer lifespan makes up for the additional original cost. Compact fluorescents are usually identifiable by the distinctive spiral shape, or the straight type that have three u-shaped tubes. Compare a typical incandescent bulb, which lasts 1,750 hours and costs $2.89, to an equivalent CFL that lasts 10,000 hours and costs $4.99.

CFLs are available in Chestertown in the following locations

  • Superfresh - 75 and 100 watt equivalents, $4.99
  • Acme - 60 and 100 watt equivalents, $5.49 and $6.49
  • Eckert - 40 and 60 watt equivalents, $6.99
  • Rite Aid - 60, 75, and 100 watt equivalents, $9.99

Metal halide bulbs are used for outdoor lighting and operate on a similar principle to fluorescent bulbs, but aren’t as subject to changes in temperature.

Light-emitting diodes (LED) are a type of semiconductor diode, and are usually colored depending on the metals used in their manufacture. LED lights are even more efficient than fluorescents, using about 10 watts to produce the same number of lumens as a 50 watt incandescent bulb. LED lights also last twice as long as fluorescent lights, but are generally more expensive except in colors. The school uses LED lights in newer exit signs, which are thinner than normal exit signs (the signs in Toll are LED).