Officials and administrators in both K-12 and higher education are looking for ways to run leaner. At the same time, they’re also looking to reduce energy costs – a significant budget sieve for most schools and universities nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates America’s schools spend more than $6 billion each year on energy. DOE analysts believe these institutions could save at least 25 percent of that, roughly $1.5 billion on a national basis, through better building design, new efficient and renewable technologies, and improvements in maintenance and operations practices.
The need to reduce energy costs and increase savings in educational facilities budgets isn’t limited to a specific region. It’s a nationwide concern that has schools seeking answers and community support.
In Iowa, schools, local governments, and healthcare facilities are in need of $500 million in cost-effective energy management improvements. In 1990, the state developed a program, the Iowa Energy Bank, that allows these facilities to identify and implement cost-effective energy management improvements with no upfront costs.
According to Monica Stone, executive officer of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Energy Bureau, the program takes advantage of the state’s experience in implementing energy management programming and the “unlimited capital available from the region’s investment bankers” to allow public and non-profit facilities to save on energy costs.
To date, 220 school districts, representing 1,200 buildings, have participated or are participating in the program. Each year, about 15 to 20 school districts will use the program, Stone says.
Each enrolled school district, college, or university receives an energy analysis appropriate for its facilities. Upon completion, the participating school submits its study to the DNR for review. Once a study is accepted, the client may take advantage of the DNR’s arranged financing to pay for the improvements. A team of financial consultants works with the school to identify the best arrangement, either accessing in-house capital or financing the improvements through a regional investment bank. Clients can arrange for the financing to be budget-neutral, allowing the entire cost of the program to be paid for from the energy savings.
“All projects that will pay for themselves within their useful life are eligible for this program,” Stone says. “For existing facilities, we generally address lighting, HVAC, operation and maintenance measures, and water efficiency measures.”
The Energy Bank can also fund renewable energy systems and has funded more than 10 wind turbines for schools, Stone notes. The program also helps schools install energy-efficient equipment in new facilities.
To date, the Iowa Energy Bank and other Building Energy Management Programs in Iowa have been responsible for $170 million in improvements with $100 million of that savings in the educational segment. Savings in this segment have been about $17 million, Stone says.
“The single largest dollar retrofit project we’ve done to date in a school district has been with the Oelwein School District for $920,000,” she says. “This project included a lighting retrofit, insulation, controls, an energy management system, water conservation measures, and a geoexchange system. However, for several schools, we’ve done many projects over the years that have added up to larger dollars implemented. With the number of small school districts in the state, the individual projects are not large, but we make up for it in the volume of projects that we do.”
While the state of Maryland does not have a program similar to the Iowa Energy Bank, the drive to save energy dollars, the state’s largest district and the 18th largest in the nation has been following a strict energy management program since 1978.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Rockville, MD, has 138,891 students and an operating budget of $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2003. Since 1978, MCPS’ energy efficiency has improved by 35 percent, resulting in more than a $4 million-per- year cost avoidance in the district’s 191 buildings and 300,442 square feet of new and modernized space.
“All facilities processes and products are reviewed periodically and improved by process action teams involving all stakeholders,” explains Ron Balon, the district’s energy manager. “Advances in building and information technology constantly open new opportunities for improvement. Currently, a Mechanical Systems process action team, consisting of energy, maintenance, and construction personnel, is re-evaluating our department’s processes and products in creating HVAC systems, from selection and design to construction and commissioning.”
Balon says the program initially focused on retrofit of energy management systems until 1990. The focus then switched to lighting retrofits of new technology lamps and ballasts, including electronic ballasts, T8 lamps, LED exits, and compact fluorescent downlights, among others.
MCPS is undertaking a massive initiative toward adding energy-efficient features in modernization and new construction projects, too, Balon notes. The district has made standard the use of high-efficiency lighting (1.0 watts/Ft2), ventilation air energy recovery, direct digital control of HVAC functions, high-performance windows, and modern condensing boilers.
To date, 85 percent (170) of buildings have received lighting retrofits and energy management control systems, while five percent of the facilities (10 buildings) meet advanced construction standards for thermal envelope and HVAC systems types, as well as lighting and energy management.
Balon says MCPS is moving toward LEED silver certification of new buildings. A geothermal heat-pump system – no boilers, chillers, or cooling towers – is installed at one new elementary school and is in the works for the district’s next new high school.
The program has expanded beyond physical facilities. In 1993, the district added behavioral award programs through its School Eco-Response Team (SERT).
The district’s SERT program sets up teams and activities centered on energy awareness and conservation in the schools and the community. Small grants are made available each year to defray costs. Successful schools – about half in the district participate in any given year – are rewarded with a check of up to $1,000 at the end of the year.
“Almost all schools that participate receive awards and recognition at some level,” Balon says. “It’s very successful at maintaining energy awareness with staff and students.”