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School energy managers: the sustaining power of energy efficiency

By Eileen Hardy

Department for Energy Development and Independence

Armed with perseverance, insight and knowledge, school energy managers across Kentucky are teaching a valuable lesson: savings garnered from energy efficiency means more money for student learning.

Energy conservation is trending. From individuals and businesses, to schools and it’s apparent that we must be smart with our energy consumption, our environment and economy depend upon it. With as much as 30 percent of a school building’s total energy use going to waste, Kentucky’s schools are seeking ways to become energy efficient.

Some schools are empowering their student body, faculty and staff to become energy advocates. Others, where funding is available, have hired an energy manager to track and evaluate utility bills, assess buildings and identify opportunities to improve efficiency. As a result, schools once known as energy drains are embracing energy efficiency in increasing numbers.

Energy use in Kentucky’s 173 school districts is down 11 percent in the past five years. Statewide, this reduction has been accomplished despite school facilities growing by more than 6 million square feet, and the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity increased by 16 percent. Kentucky has experienced a surge in the number of ENERGY STAR certified schools, and with a total of 329, currently ranks third in the nation in percentage.

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that provides a fair assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to its peers. Energy data is verified by a professional engineer or registered architect over a twelve month period, and scored on a 1-100 scale. Schools earning a score of 75 or higher earn the ENERGY STAR label.

A decade ago, energy management positions were not common in schools and energy costs were considered a fixed operating cost, over which school officials had little control. But rising energy prices, coupled with a challenging economic environment and an increasing focus on environmental concerns, has grabbed the attention of many school leaders. With the help of energy managers, they’ve learned energy is a controllable cost and, when used efficiently, is a resource to support teaching positions and to educate students.

“We need to be responsible stewards of our community’s dollars. Our community needs to know that for every dollar we save, that money is put into the classroom, and into the seat of every student,” said Shelby County Superintendent James Neihof. “That’s why we do what we do, it’s for the kids.  The learning environment is our highest priority. Our board of education made a commitment early on to support energy management, and our local energy suppliers have really worked well with us through several grant opportunities and rebates.”

Six years ago, the Energy and Environment Cabinet partnered with the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) to develop the School Energy Managers Project (SEMP), as a means to improve energy efficiency in schools. This state-wide program created an energy infrastructure for all 173 school districts and facilitated placing energy managers in school districts.

Today, there are 51 skilled energy managers providing services to more than half of school districts in Kentucky. From when the program began in 2010 to the end of the 2015 school year, it has seen cost savings of more than $68 million. And savings are projected to increase to more than $80 million by July of 2016. With the help of these energy managers, school officials are now evaluating every detail of their daily operations, like room temperatures, lighting and making decisions to replace energy-draining equipment with more energy efficient models.

Garry Morgan, Leslie County Energy Manager, worked together with Superintendent Anthony Little and identified various energy projects that could immediately impact the bottom-line. “Even small adjustments can pay-off almost immediately,” said Morgan.  “Utilizing the utility rebate funding by our utility provider, Kentucky Power, we received a rebate of $5,500 to replace an assortment of metal halide lights with 102 energy-efficient LED’s and saved $5,000 annually. Net cost to the district was $5,500. Implementing an energy project with about a one-year payback is significant and two additional energy projects have been identified to implement over the next six months with a similar payback.”

Energy management basics are the same for all districts and include appointing an energy committee, assessing facilities, developing and implementing an energy management plan and then reporting the status of those efforts annually.  Each school district has different needs and priorities.  While some realize energy efficiencies by installing efficient lighting or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, others focus on behavior change, creating a culture of energy conservation that involves the entire school campus. Topping the how-to list for effective energy management is having leadership buy-in.

“It is important to understand that learning how to manage our energy resources does not happen overnight,” said Jimmy Arnold, Energy Manager and Chief Information Officer for Butler County Schools.  “It takes perseverance. Leadership buy-in is very important. Throughout my tenure with Butler County, I’ve worked with two school superintendents.  The support for energy management started in 2004 under then, Superintendent Larry Woods, and has continued today with Superintendent Scott Howard. By having their support, and that of the local board, energy management is a priority now throughout the district.”

Board of education decisions made regarding facility renovations have allowed Arnold to make the most of the continued focus on energy. Since energy reporting began in 2010, the district has been one of the most energy efficient districts in the state, but they continue to strive to find ways to reduce energy and save thousands of dollars annually.

School Energy Manager Terry Salyer agrees with the importance of leadership buy-in. “Trust is like an invisible resource, and gaining that trust or faith is central to any successful endeavor.”

Salyer started as an energy manager six years ago through SEMP and provided services to multiple districts including lead district Johnson County, Lawrence County and Paintsville Independent.  Two years later, Martin and Magoffin Counties joined the partnership.

“My first goal was to gain trust in my skills and support for my ideas.  I started with utility bill analysis to help my district leaders understand the value of energy management. As a result, we identified significant savings which had a big impact on their largest line item, personnel.”“

Salyer provides energy management services to a five-district partnership including lead district Johnson County, and Magoffin, Lawrence and Martin County School Districts and Paintsville Independent.

Providing services to multiple districts presents additional challenges to not only managing energy, but managing time as well.  As energy manager to a seven-district partnership, Terry Anderson has a unique mix of insight, skills and understanding that places him in the right place at the right time. Anderson provides services to lead school district Fleming County, and partnering districts Bath, Mason, Menifee, Robertson, Rowan and Augusta Independent.

“I have to be flexible,” said Anderson.  “In one district, the school board may choose an energy savings performance contract, which is a funding mechanism for energy upgrades. It uses the savings from the various energy conservation measures to fund the project, without additional costs to the school district.  And in other districts it might be lighting projects or optimizing heating, ventilation, air conditioning controls or developing shutdown procedures for breaks to help the district make daily decisions to reduce energy use.”

The KSBA-SEMP program has funded and trained local school energy managers since 2010. This funding currently is in partnership with Louisville Gas & Electric/Kentucky Utilities Company and Kentucky Power Company. By implementing energy efficiency measures, these managers have contributed to 84 percent of districts reducing energy use, with a cumulative savings of over $80 million.

“Kentucky schools have made significant progress in the past six years in eliminating wasteful spending on energy, as boards, staff and students have focused on implementing best energy efficiency practices,” said KSBA-SEMP Director Ron Willhite. “Whether it’s earning an ENERGY STAR certification, implementing energy efficient projects or organizing a student energy team, Kentucky’s schools are showing responsible energy and fiscal management practices.”

 

 

 

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