05/22/05 — School officials say year-old energy program paying off

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School officials say year-old energy program paying off

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 22, 2005 2:07 AM

Believing that what gets monitored gets done, school officials say its year-old energy education program is paying off in utility savings.

At the beginning of the last school year, Wayne County Public Schools entered into a four-year contract with Energy Education, Inc., with a prediction that savings over the first 10 years could be between $6 million and $10 million. Energy Education was paid $307,800 with a savings guarantee that if the school system did not save that amount in the first year, the company would write a check for the difference.

The school system's goal is to reach 25 percent savings from where it was when the program began. Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, said the school system has already gone from 13 to 16 percent in savings since signing on.

"We hope to be at 21 percent by next year," he said.

Chris Barnes, energy education manager for the school system, said the program has already saved the school system a tremendous amount of money. With a lot of energy previously "going out of the window," the savings can be attributed to awareness, he said.

"Before the energy education program, a lot of energy was wasted," he recently told the school board. "People knew about it but weren't always doing it."

Barnes conducts an energy audit at every school each week, looking for "anything and everything that can equate to energy savings."

In addition to the usual suggestions to turn off lights and lower the thermostat when students are out of school, Barnes said that even slight changes can quickly add up with 31 schools across the county.

One of the recent changes made, he said, was to remove the lighting from vending machines. That could save about $22 a year per machine. With an estimated 150 machines in place, that equates to $3,300 a year in savings.

Making sure computers are turned off at the end of the day or put in sleep mode so that they automatically shut off after a short period of time, can save as much as $8,600 a year, he said.

There are also plans start replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps. The initial cost will be drastically higher, Barnes says, but will use a lot less energy and have a life expectancy of 14 times greater than the older bulbs.

"In the long run, we look at saving approximately $65 per light fixture," he said.

With hundreds of those fixtures in the school system, including five gymnasiums using them, he gauged the annual savings at $5,300.

Barnes said his department is also looking at a device that detects temperature, relative humidity and high carbon monoxide and dioxide.

Personal items used by the schools' staff are also coming under scrutiny. These include refrigerators, microwaves and coffee makers.

"There are 200 such refrigerators in the district, some with just a can of soda or empty," he said, estimating the cost to keep each of them running at $20 a month.

Another streamlining measure came in the form of restructuring some of the school system's rate plans through Progress Energy, Barnes said.

None of the efforts being made, though, will be at the expense of comfort for the children in the school system, Hill said.

"The program is working," said Dr. Steve Taylor, superintendent of schools. "(Barnes is) in all 31 schools every week and he has found things outside of this program that have saved us money."

School board member John P. Grantham said he understood the value of investing in a program that would ultimately save the school system money.

"I'm impressed with what they're doing," he said.