Communicating early successes also helps. Once people realize the amount of money their efforts are saving, they're more likely to participate and implement additional projects, resulting in even greater savings. In Chambersburg's first year working with Energy Star, it saved about 17 percent of its energy costs. That jumped to 25 percent the second year, and 30 percent the following year, as more energy-saving initiatives were put in place. All told, the district has avoided more than $3 million in costs over about five and a half years, Kelley says.
Ongoing communication also helps everyone remember to consistently take the energy-saving steps they need to. St. Tammany uses posters, stickers and other materials to remind employees to turn off lights and equipment, Brady says. During broadcasts and assemblies, Energy Saver student teams encourage other students to monitor their energy use.
Energy management systems also have been critical to the effectiveness of many districts' energy saving efforts. Chambersburg, for instance, invested about $300,000 to upgrade energy management controls in seven elementary schools, says Ed Peters, facility operations supervisor. "You can see instant savings just by upgrading controls," he says. Previously, for instance, turning on the building systems for one classroom required turning on an entire wing. Now, it's possible to turn on a single classroom.
At Nash-Rocky Mount, Lamm can manage most of the district's 29 schools through three digital control systems. These allow him to, for instance, stagger the start times for the building systems, reducing peak energy demand and lowering their energy bills. A case in point: He was able to cut peak demand at one high school by 300 kilowatts, leading to monthly savings of about $2,200 — for just that facility.
Energy savings don't always require new equipment. Hamilton's district removed some of the lights in hallways that receive a great deal of natural light, reducing energy use without affecting the learning environment. It also is replacing T12 lamps with T8s. "It's a combination of steps," Hamilton says.
Along with helping school districts save money, working with Energy Star can bring other benefits. Ellinger used the energy information he had gained to help justify the district's investment in new boilers in the elementary schools several years ago. The result was a significant drop in gas bills, he says.
While the goal of working with Energy Star is to reduce energy consumption, that doesn't automatically equate to lower energy costs every year. For starters, a facility's energy bills will vary as the rates charged by the utilities fluctuate. In addition, many school buildings are operating for longer periods of time each day in order to accommodate sports and other activities, Hamilton points out. Many teachers also are making greater use of technology. Both these shifts typically boost energy use.
The goal is to use the energy that's needed as efficiently as possible. As Brady notes, the "money that would have gone to pay utility bills we have instead been able to spend on educating our students." At the same time, the district's initiatives are "teaching our future generations the importance of saving energy."
Karen Kroll, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.
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