Walts: Not Hype, Green Energy Equals $19 million Savings for Schools

December 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent

When the issue of School Division energy conservation came up at a recent Prince William County School Board meeting, the ensuing discussion caught some in the audience by surprise. To be honest, I was surprised too. After all, what could make more sense than cutting unnecessary energy spending to redirect money to student education?

The discussion quickly provided an answer. Energy conservation can be viewed as less desirable when people feel their personal quality of life may be directly affected. School Board Members asked for assurance that PWCS is not seeking big sacrifices merely to produce a feel-good green aura around minimal returns.

Let me assure everyone, the return for taxpayers is anything but minimal.

Analysis by the School Division’s energy conservation partner/consultant, Cenergistic (formerly Energy Education, Inc.), suggest that carefully planned and executed conservation will let PWCS realize as much as $19 million in net savings over five years. Rather than $19 million going to our energy providers, our conscious efforts will allow the money to remain in our budget to help classroom teachers, to save jobs and quality programs, and to invest in Providing a World-Class Education.

This is not hype. Cenergistic has generated similar levels of conservation savings for school divisions across the nation. They are paid only a percentage of actual savings, without which, they do not get paid. With the predicted energy savings PWCS still expects to come out $19 million ahead during Cenergistic’s five-year contract. After that, the company stops getting paid, but conservation changes keep paying off for us. After ten years, our total energy spending reduction could add up to nearly $70 million.

Clearly, this is not just about turning off lights. Cenergistic has identified more than a thousand ways in which energy consumption can be reduced. They include changing automated device schedules to more accurately reflect when facilities are actually used; reassessing maintenance and operation programs; and divisionwide educational efforts highlighting conservation and sustainability in every PWCS building. Just one approach focuses on maintaining the optimal combination of temperature and humidity that can ensure comfortable classrooms, while cutting energy use. It will require behavioral changes—after all, commonly used fans and space heaters in classrooms can undermine schoolwide savings when there are better alternatives for ensuring comfort. But these are the lessons the PWCS program and its energy coordinators (also paid with energy savings) will share with PWCS employees.

School Board Members asked lots of questions for the right reasons, and sought clear assurances that savings will not compromise the comfort and needs of teachers and students. They adopted a revised energy policy with a Board-inserted provision requiring that regulations drafted to implement the conservation effort focus on “common sense” changes and expectations.

We will work together to follow that guidance. That means determining whether common sense dictates compact refrigerators for convenience in every classroom, or whether larger, more centralized units will suffice. We will look at issues from opening windows for natural ventilation to ways of ensuring the efficiency of small equipment purchases. Multiplied by 93 schools, these decisions add up.

As our School Board made clear, we must apply common sense to expectations that affect the daily lives of students and employees. That includes the recognition that comfortable conditions are vital for effective teaching and learning.

Board support for the PWCS energy conservation reflects additional common sense too – in tough financial times, it makes no sense to spend tens of millions on unnecessary energy costs when that same money can be invested in our classrooms, in quality programs, in saving jobs, and in improving the education of our students. We know this is common sense our community can embrace. It is a present the School Division can give itself this holiday season that will keep on giving. We will keep you posted as this effort pays off.

Happy Holidays!


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