Calling it a strategic partnership with Mother Nature, the Gundersen Lutheran Health System based in La Crosse, Wis., is planning to go where no hospital has gone before: a new energy-efficient, acute-care hospital powered exclusively by renewable energy sources owned by the system itself.
Although environmental altruism may have helped shade the decision to go in this direction, the other green influencing Gundersen is the color of money. Officials insist that the systemwide conservation measures being taken will not only pay for themselves but also help retain staff and encourage philanthropy.
Not only is it going to be a very energy-sound facility, but its going to be powered by sources we own, says Gundersen Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Thompson. Once thats paid for, well have the ability to decrease the cost of healthcare.
The new hospital will be the second one in the system, joining 258-bed Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, La Crosse.
Although its exact size and bed count has yet to be determined, the new facility will be built on Gundersens La Crosse campus with construction expected to start next year. It will get its power from a variety of sources, including two wind turbines, which will provide about 20% of the power for the entire campus (or enough electricity to power 815 homes), two large photovoltaic solar panels will power the new underground parking facilitys lighting and ventilation systems, and solar-heated water for campus laundry operations is expected to cut natural gas use by 57%.
One of the more interesting aspects of the project is its partnership with City Brewery, the La Crosse facility where Old Style beer used to be brewed and specialty brands such as La Crosse Lager are now produced. Gundersen plans to capture the methane gas thats discharged during the brewing process and use it to fire a power plant that will provide 13% of its campus current electrical needs (or enough to power 539 homes). The project carries an investment price tag of about $1.5 million.
These measures are all being done in concert with a comprehensive energy audit that is expected to reduce Gundersens energy consumption by 20% and result in savings of $800,000 a year.
Here are hard green dollars going to the bottom line, Thompson says. The return on investment will be massive.
Jerry Arndt, Gundersens senior vice president for business services, says many of the improvements identified so far by the energy audit are pretty low-hanging fruit, so this quick return on investment has helped win the backing of the systems governing board.
I think if it were strictly altruistic, thered be a lot of pushback, Arndt says. But, on each of these projects, we demonstrated that there is a payback of five to seven yearsafter which you have essentially free energy.
In addition to the boards support, Thompson says the commitment to go green has helped generate more philanthropic donations to Gundersen and has helped energize the staff.
Youre not going to get staff excited about changing the size of a pump to save electricity, Thompson says. But, 100% renewable energy, thats something the staff can get excited about.