Energy Initiatives | Feature

Saving Green with Green Facilities

A statewide initiative is underway in Idaho to tune up all of the state's K-12 schools and make them more energy-efficient.

When federal stimulus funding began making its way into Idaho, the state's Office of Energy Resources (OER) wanted to use it for projects that would make an impact. "We didn't want to do a bunch of 'one hit wonders' that weren't sustainable," said OER administrator Paul Kjellander. "We wanted to get a big bang for our $17 million in funding."

Green Drivers
Kjellander said the department wasn't interested in going green for the sake of going green but "for the sake of greenbacks." Whatever initiatives were introduced would have to be cost-effective, he said, and they had to make sense and be sustainable for the long term. "We knew that throwing money at energy efficiency projects would be a waste," said Kjellander, "since most of the benefits would be lost within a year or two anyway."

The recession was a key project driver, according to Kjellander, whose team recognized that the heating and electric bills generated by the state's schools could be reduced, thus boosting the state general fund revenue stream. "With revenues down, this was a great opportunity to go in and put money into saving kilowatts of power, which translates into money savings," said Kjellander. "Once eliminated, those saved dollars would never have to come out of the general fund again."

After surveying the state's K-12 school buildings and structures, the OER decided that a sweeping tuneup and retrofit plan was in order across the board. It set up a program called the Idaho K-12 School Efficiency Project, and through it is committing the $17 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) State Energy Program (SEP) funds to K-12 existing school building energy efficiency upgrades.

According to Kjellander, OER is focused on saving money through building process changes, mechanical system tuneups, and the "installation of hard measures implemented through building [structure], lighting, mechanical and water savings retrofit."

The money will be used to cover two project phases, the first of which is nearly completed and found 10 engineering firms (selected through an RFQ process) providing HVAC tune-ups and energy audits for the state's 700+ classroom buildings. The second phase is beginning this year and will focus on retrofitting those buildings.

Green Training
Kjellander said OER is also setting up ongoing training at the individual schools to ensure that the "green" efforts sustain themselves for more than a year or two.

That training supports "the most efficient and effective implementation of both the tuneups and hard measure installation," said Kjellander. "If you don't have someone who can go back into the building and do those tuneups on a regular basis, the benefits will be lost."

Return on Investment
The Idaho K-12 project kicked off with a voluntary pilot program at Homedale School District. In mid-2010, audits were performed on the district's buildings, and tuneups were implemented. Kjellander estimated that those tune-ups will result in 18 percent reductions in energy bills over the next 12 months (compared to the previous 12 months).

Kjellander predicted that the K-12 project will create or maintain between 150 and 250 jobs over the next 24 months and said the department's goal is to save districts 10 percent to 20 percent on utility bills annually. The OER invested about $18,000 in the initial Homedale project, for example, and is expecting $20,000 in annual savings.

"That's a pretty good bang for our buck," said Kjellander. "I'm not saying we're going to get the same results at every school, but we're happy with the outcome."

Kjellander said OER expects to invest between $6 million and $9 million in the statewide school retrofits. So far, he said, the engineers have identified lighting as the area where most schools need improvement. "We still have a lot of older buildings that rely on fluorescent lighting," said Kjellander. "A lot of new technology has come along since those fixtures were installed, and we plan to tap into it."

The schools themselves are also expected to step up to the plate in the future, said Kjellander, who admitted that the $17 million in funding simply isn't enough to hit each corner of every building with "green" measures. In fact, he said several schools have expressed frustration in the fact that there's not enough funding and resources available to completely overhaul their buildings.

"We can't go in and replaced entire HVAC and furnace systems for every school; it's just not financially possible," said Kjellander. "We will, however, be giving the schools their individual audit information, so that they can look at what other cost-cutting steps they can take in the future."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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