Energy efficiency saves school district money


MILLSTONE — The school district’s utility bills aren’t as high as they used to be.

A year ago, the Board of Education approved a two-year contract with Energy Education, a Texas-based company that advertises its energy saving services as requiring “no capital outlay” and “no new budgeted funds” for “contractually guaranteed savings” and “doing the right thing for the environment” with “no comfort sacrificed.” The company also boasts “$1.9 million net savings” in evaluating over 1,200 areas for ways to reduce electricity, natural gas, water and other utility consumption.

The two-year-contract with the company includes a two-year renewal option. The contract also states that if Energy Education’s costs exceed the school district’s savings, the company would cover those costs.

Business Administrator Bernard Biesaida said the school district pays Energy Education $6,500 per month on top of a $12,500 fee for the purchase of software. The software helps the district’s energy education specialist monitor electricity, water, sewer, natural gas and fuel oil use, and compare current use to a baseline period when the conservation practices had not been implemented.

The district had a cumulative $123,001 or 27.5 percent savings in energy costs over a seven-month period when compared to the same time period last year, according to Biesaida.

Keith Buckalew, district supervisor of buildings and grounds and energy education specialist, compared the energy costs and savings in February-August to the same in February August 2008.

When factoring in the costs of the contract and other adjustments, the district actually saved $41,455 since beginning its partnership with Energy Education in November, according to Buckalew. He said the district used 446,812 kilowatt-hours (kWh) less electricity and 13,764 therms less of natural gas than it did during the same time period the previous year. He said these savings are equivalent to preventing 411 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, to taking 74 automobiles off the road, or planting 10,500 seedlings and growing them for ten years.

The district has eliminated energy waste by auditing buildings when they are occupied and when they are not, according to Buckalew.

“We make sure lighting, computers and copiers are off during off hours,” he said.

The district analyzes consumption for building efficiency, using web-based tools and diagnostic loggers to track waste. Buckalew said the district also audits utility bills and monitors meters for errors and overcharges. School staff members have also investigated grants and rebate programs, he said.

Savings calculations account for changes in weather, building size, portable buildings, technology, mechanical systems, and billing cycles. They also rely on using the current costs of energy and are never based on historical energy prices.

For example, he noted that the cost of electricity decreased 12.6 percent from 16 cents per kWh February-August 2008 to 14 cents per kWh February-August 2009. While the cost of electricity went down, the price of natural gas went up 7.3 percent during the same time frame. Natural gas cost $1.53 per therm this year and $1.43 per therm last year.

The calculated energy savings also takes other variables, such as temperature, into consideration. Buckalew said that February was 6 percent milder than February 2008, April was 35 percent cooler than April 2008, and May was 65 percent milder than May 2008.

Factors such as these helped the district determine that its total cumulative energy cost savings over the seven-month period as $123,001, according to Buckalew.

Buckalew thanked the custodians, staff and administration for helping make the program work. Future projects include heightening awareness of the district’s energy policy, lowering demand usage, and getting the main office administration and personnel of all school buildings more involved in conservation.

Board member Sal Casale said Energy Education’s program seems more behavioral than technological, and asked if more technology, such as sensors, could be used. Buckalew said that some sensors are used, and that technology is a good part of the program.

Paul Hamman, vice president of Energy Education, said that his company would continue to support the energy saving program after the contract ends, if the district maintained it.