Schools getting help in cutting utility costs

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2011 - 9:01 PM

Schools for Energy Efficiency program pairs districts with energy-efficiency coordinators to watch utility bills.

It's the simple things that matter in cutting down on school energy costs.

Closing the classroom doors to maintain the temperature, turning off the lights when you leave the room, turning off the computer screen or unplugging that unused television.

That's part of the message that Ann Arney, White Bear Lake's energy-efficiency coordinator, is trying to get across to district officials, teachers and students.

"Schools have less and less money every year," she said. "We want to help districts be good stewards of tax money."

White Bear Lake is one of several districts across the state that have enrolled in an energy-saving program operated by an independent company, Class 5 Inc. to work with school districts to reduce their utility bills. So far, White Bear Lake has cut $65,000 from its utility bills since enrolling.

The South Washington County School District was enrolled in the program for eight years and reduced its energy bills by more than 13 percent, saving $3.5 million. The Mahtomedi schools reduced their total energy bills by more than 16 percent and saved $652,000 after enrolling in the program in 2004 for five years.

"Cutting off a light can save a district a few pennies, but those pennies turn into dollars very quickly," Arney said.

To enroll in the program, districts must pay a percentage of their savings to the company or they can pay a lump sum of $5,000 for each building in their district.

Districts also have the option of hiring their own energy-efficiency coordinator or using a coordinator who is employed by Class 5 in its Schools for Energy Efficiency program.

Arney, who works for Schools for Energy Efficiency and serves as a coordinator for several other districts in the Twin Cities, tracks buildings' energy usage and utility bills every three months and goes through schools to determine ways the schools can cut down on energy costs.

Matoska Elementary was able to cut its energy usage by 20 percent, for example, after Arney advised the district to remove unneeded light bulbs in the ceiling lighting using a formula that determines how much light a school classroom should have.

"We want to save money, but the last thing we want to do is compromise teaching and learning," she said.

She also advises districts to mandate temperatures of 68 to 70 degrees in classrooms and 65 to 70 degrees in hallways, gyms and cafeterias during the winter heating season. She recommends temperatures of 74 to 78 degrees during the summer cooling season. Arney, a former teacher, also visits classrooms to teach lessons to students on how to save energy. She brings in equipment to show students how many watts everyday household items use.

"I want energy saving to become a part of the community's collective conscience," Arney said. "Over time, you slowly start to see an entire culture change."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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