ELKHART — Local schools are working to continue tightening their budgets, but some have already saved millions in energy costs through the last few years.
Several local school districts have integrated an energy program that has teachers, maintenance staff and others chipping in by turning off computers, lights and other electronics, along with engaging in larger energy-savings tasks such as lowering temperatures in buildings during weekends and weeknights.
Elkhart schools began working with Cenergistic, an energy conservation company that works with businesses and organizations, in September 2009. Ted Foland, Elkhart Community Schools’ energy specialist, explained that the program asks teachers to do four things: close window blinds, keep doors closed and shut off all electronics and turn off all lights when the school day ends.
Keeping blinds closed means that outside sunshine isn’t affecting indoor temperature as much. Keeping the doors closed keeps schools’ heating and cooling systems from having to heat or cool hallways.
It can sound like minor stuff.
Concord Energy Education Specialist Joe Bowen said, “It’s a nickel and dime thing, but that’s how the program is built — on nickels and dimes.”
Those nickels and dimes add up, though.
Foland explained that for Elkhart Community Schools, it costs about a penny an hour to run a computer, its screen and a printer. Before people really became aware of the idea of energy savings, Foland said, schools generally kept computers and other technological devices on all the time. That would come up to about $87 a year per computer. With more than 5,000 computers in the district, the school system would be paying more than $43,5000 just to run its computers.
Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Concord, Wa-Nee and Penn-Harris-Madison all work with Cenergistic, previously called Energy Education.
The school systems figure their “cost avoidance” by calculating their expected energy costs would be without the program and what their actual energy costs are.
Here are what local school systems’ energy specialists reported as their cost avoidance.
Elkhart: Just less than $3 million from September 2009 to December 2012
Goshen: $1.4 million since June 2009
Concord: $952,000 from 2009 to January 2013
Middlebury: $2.5 million from 2005 to February 2013
Wa-Nee: A little more than $535,000 in three years
Penn-Harris-Madison, according to its energy webpage: $3.4 million from 2009 to January 2013
Judy Miller, Goshen Schools’ energy specialist, explained that the larger size of some companies or organizations make it more difficult to save energy without working with a formal program.
“This is especially true in an organization like ours, where there are numerous facilities, multiple schedules and activities, and a variety of heating and cooling systems,” Miller said. “We monitor ventilation, humidity, pressures, whether equipment is responding to commands — a number of factors.”
Area school energy specialists do that through electronic equipment and computer programs, as well as frequent “audits” of school buildings and at various times of day, where the energy specialists walk through buildings and check on anything that could be using energy.
“As you walk through buildings, you listen and you watch and you observe for motors running” and other equipment running that shouldn’t be, he said.
Along with frequent visits to school buildings, Foland spends time digging through the thorough utilities reports for each building. He finds it fascinating, he said, not only looking for spikes or decreases in water, gas or electricity use, but then figuring out the reason behind the change.
“It’s telling a story based on facts,” he said.
Several energy specialists were quick to point out that while they work with some technology, the program is really very people based.
Much of the energy specialist’s work involves getting teachers and other staff on board with watching their energy use and doing that little bit of extra work before they head home.
Many leave encouraging notes in teachers’ rooms when they’ve “shut down” their room correctly.
As time goes on, it becomes more difficult to identify possible ways to save energy and still keep students, staff and visitors comfortable in the buildings, but local schools’ energy specialists said that, at that point, their work becomes about maintaining all the progress they have already made.