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Schools Boost Efforts to Conserve Energy and Save Millions

by Jessica Brice
San Francisco Chronicle - September 14, 2002

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Since last year's energy crisis, the average California public school spends more money per student on energy than it does on school supplies, according to state officials.

The average school spends about $180 per student each year on energy and only about $150 per student for books, according to Daryl Mills, a supervisor at the California Energy Commission.

To keep costs down, school districts are turning to energy conservation.

At the Rio Linda Union School District here, Resource Conservation Manager Tim Bond has one job: Save money.

Since starting last year, Bond has helped the district reduce its $1.1 million cost by more than 10 percent.

"Fifty percent of the savings can come from just getting teachers and students to change their behavior on a day-to-day basis," Bond said.

He's also replaced inefficient appliances, installed heat-saving windows and popped in more than 7,800 low-watt light bulbs.

Bond is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, which has agreed to pay his salary for two years. After that, the 24-school district will use energy savings to pay him.

Schools across California and the nation are taking advantage of several state and federal programs to make their schools more energy efficient, using projected savings to pay for the conservation projects.

Although such programs have been around for years, many schools have focused on reducing energy costs since the 2001 energy crisis, when wholesale electricity prices skyrocketed.

The state's two main energy conservation programs, the Bright Schools and the High Performance Schools programs, provide design consultation, help identify cost-effective energy-saving measures and provide low-interest loans to outfit schools. Starting this fall, schools districts will be able to get up to a 90 percent rebate for solar panels.

"A lot of the programs grew from the energy crisis," Mills said "And interest in the programs has increased dramatically. We spent about $10 million a year in loans before, and last year we did about $65 million."

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the energy bill for schools across the nation tops $6 billion -- about 25 percent more than necessary.

At least a dozen California school districts are participating in the federal Energy Smart Schools program, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the West Contra Costa School District.

Schools can also finance energy-conservation projects through private companies and pay off loans from projected savings.

The Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts recently worked with Noresco, a national energy service company, to complete $1.3 million campus improvement project that included a clean-burning fuel cell, which provides electricity and warms the library using heat from the fuel cell that would otherwise dissipate.

"Technically, it doesn't cost us any money, and it doesn't cost the tax payers any money," said Robert Cleghorn, the school's director of environmental health and safety.

Some of the biggest energy cost savings can come from college campuses. The Department of Energy estimates that U.S. college campuses use about 1 quad of energy per year -- about the same amount used by the entire world every 23 hours.

Some colleges take energy conservation to the extreme.

Northland College in Wisconsin has a "living laboratory" dorm that features a 120-foot-tall wind generator, solar panels, recycled furniture and waterless toilets.

Jessica Brice
Schools Boost Efforts to Conserve Energy and Save Millions
San Francisco Chronicle September 14, 2002

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