By Karen Kroll – Energy Efficiency
The cost to heat, cool, and operate the approximately 98,800 public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. comes to about $7.6 billion annually, says Lauren Pitcher, a communications director with Energy Star. That’s more than the tab for textbooks and computers combined. Indeed, energy costs are typically a school’s largest operating expense after salaries, Energy Star reports. The size of the nation’s schools’ utility bills, combined with ongoing budget constraints, are prompting many k-12 school district leaders to carefully consider ways to save energy. One way they’re doing so is by using Energy Star Portfolio Manager
Fortunately, many school districts can cut energy use and costs. Operating costs at the most energy-efficient schools run about 40 cents per square foot less than the costs at average schools, while the least efficient schools use three times more energy than the most efficient, Energy Star reports.
Moreover, reducing energy use doesn’t have to mean compromising the education students receive. “We don’t teach in the dark,” says Eric Hamilton, director of buildings and grounds with the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose (BHM) Schools in Buffalo, Minn. “We just have a dark room when we leave.” BHM, an Energy Star Leader, has avoided about $13 million in energy costs over the past decade, Hamilton says.
It appears that many school districts have taken note of the value of Energy Star. Of the approximately 5,900 Energy Star Partners, about 1,179 (just under 20 percent) are school districts. Partner organizations have committed to measure, track, and benchmark energy performance. They also commit to develop and implement plans to improve energy performance using the Energy Star strategy, and to educate their employees and communities about their organizations’ partnerships and achievements with Energy Star.
Moreover, school districts make up 85 percent of all Energy Star Leaders. These organizations have achieved portfolio-wide energy efficiency improvements of at least 10 percent, when measured against their baselines, or have earned an average rating of 75 or better, again, across their portfolio.
The results can be impressive. For instance, the Nash-Rocky Mount school district in North Carolina, which consists of 32 facilities comprising 2.6 million square feet, has avoided $8.1 million in energy costs over the past eight years, says Charles Lamm, energy management coordinator. “We’ve had up to a 30 percent reduction in (annual) energy use.” Even though energy prices jumped about 53 percent between 2003 and 2012, the energy budget increased just $120,000, Lamm says.
The district’s work with the Energy Star program, as well as with an outside firm that has helped it track and reduce energy use, were keys to its success, says Mark Strickland, executive director of operations. “We were doing a good job, but realized that we needed outside help and talent,” given the rate at which energy costs themselves were increasing.
The St. Tammany Parish Public School District in Covington, La., had similar reasons for partnering with Energy Star, says William Brady, assistant superintendent of administration. “The district could be provided with many valuable resources and ideas in order to help us meet our energy goals and ensure that students are learning to be good stewards of the environment.” In the seven years ending in late 2012, the district avoided more than $11 million in energy costs, Brady says. St. Tammany includes 55 schools and 16 support sites.