Health system becomes first to create more energy than it uses

Gundersen Health System now saves $2 million per year in energy costs

Gundersen Health System last month became the first health system in the nation to produce more energy than it consumed, six years after beginning a rigorous sustainability initiative.

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In 2008, the Lacrosse, Wisconsin-based health system began efforts to improve sustainability, starting with an energy audit and recommissioning of its facilities. Initial steps included scheduling HVAC system fans to run only when necessary, installing more environment-friendly lighting, and optimizing chiller and cooling tower performance.

Later, the system made more drastic changes, such as creating a new data center to determine the most efficient uses of energy, building wind turbines to create and sell power to the local grid, and generating heat and electricity out of methane gas from a local landfill.

Since the start of the project, Gundersen has reduced its energy use by 40%, which translates into nearly $2 million in savings per year. And during that time, the system constructed a new hospital and behavioral health facility—a 25% increase in space that makes the savings even more impressive.

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Gundersen CEO Jeffery Thomason says, "We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs, and help our local economy…. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country." He adds, "[Gundersen] has shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy, and positively impact the environment."

However, Jeff Rich, executive director of Gunderson's energy subsidiary, says there is still more to be done to reduce energy waste. He says, "We were the first to do it and it's a pretty astounding thing [but] our next chapter will be to run the days into months and years" (Ferenc, Health Facilities Management, 11/20).

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