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Green Schools | Project Spotlight

No-Cost Retrofits Save on Energy Expenditures for Texas District

Looking to reap $240,000 in energy savings, Muenster ISD completes an energy retrofit on older buildings with no upfront investment.

When HB3693 was signed into law in Texas in 2007, school districts across the state suddenly found themselves in a race to reduce their annual electricity consumption by 5 percent annually over the following six fiscal years. Saddled with buildings that ranged in age from 50 to 70 years old, Muenster Independent School District had its work cut out for it when it came to meeting that mandate.

"We passed a bond to construct some new buildings, but even some of those are now more than 10 years old and in need of retrofits and upgrades," said Clay Richerson, superintendent for the 470-student, pre-K-12 district. In his current position since 2009, Richerson said he was charged with reducing district electricity usage by 15 percent, posting all utility bills online (part of the state mandate), and advocating measures like turning off lights when rooms weren't in use.

After conferring with the school board and exploring different ways to achieve the lower energy consumption mandate, Richerson and his team decided that an energy retrofit was in order. "We felt that it would not only help with the electricity consumption," said Richerson, "but that it would also help our district run in a more environmentally-conscious manner."

Richerson said a supportive school board and the fact that the proposed retrofit required no upfront capital costs both worked in the district's favor. Developed by NextEra Energy Solutions, of Juno Beach, FL, the plan's key components included new light fixtures and bulbs, HVAC equipment and programmable thermostats. The company offered the district a "performance contracting agreement," which means that the project cost is paid through savings generated by the energy efficient upgrades and rebates from the local utility and doesn't impose upfront capital costs on the district or additional burdens on local taxpayers.

The contract guarantees more than $240,000 in energy savings, reduced maintenance costs and capital cost avoidance over the term of the agreement. The district was also supposed to receive an estimated $20,000 in utility rebates — a target number that Richerson said turned out to be more like $16,000. "After seeing the plan," he said, "the board got very interested in the long-range cost effectiveness of making our campus more energy efficient."

Work began during the summer of 2012 and continued for "a couple of weeks into the 2012-2013 school year," said Richerson. During that time more than 828 light fixtures were either replaced or upgraded; new split-system, high-efficiency HVAC units installed; and programmable thermostats placed throughout the district's buildings. Energy-efficient floodlights designed to improve security and safety in the school's outdoor areas were also added.

"Lighting was really the main thing," said Richerson. "Our fixtures were old; some gave off bluish light, and others were yellow. We got rid of all of them and wound up with lighter, brighter classrooms with no dark spots in them." HVAC units that had reached the end of their tenures were replaced while others were upgraded — a move that Richerson said resulted in the lower-than-expected utility rebates. "If we had changed out more of those units we would have gotten more money back," he explained. "It wasn't as much as we'd hoped for, but any incentive is positive."

Richerson said the overhaul went smoothly and that it kicked off with the upgrade of a single room. Improvements were then made to the district's administration building, high school facility, gymnasium, athletic training center and third- and fourth-grade instructional facility. "It was a pretty easy process," said Richerson. "NextEra did all of the research and work. I just listened to the suggestions and said, 'go do it.'"

The retrofit's tangible benefits go beyond energy conservation and the lower maintenance costs associated with the district's new, state-of-the-art equipment. According to Richerson, both students and staff have commented on how much lighter and brighter their classrooms are. "It has helped us create a much better learning environment," said Richerson. In addition, lighting for the school's competition gymnasium now meets the Texas University Interscholastic School League standards.

This year Muenster ISD will calculate its total energy savings and reduced maintenance costs to determine if the actual number meets or exceeds the promised $240,000. "Per our contract, if the numbers don't match up with the guarantee then NextEra will have to pay us the difference," said Richerson.

Also yet to be determined is the amount of electricity savings that the retrofit affords Muenster ISD on an annual basis — and just how close the district is to achieving the mandated state conservation goal. After reviewing the district's energy bill for December 2012 — its first full month using the retrofitted facilities — Richerson said the expenditure was "exactly the same" as the prior month.

"We've been dealing with cooler-than-average temperatures so our heating system has been running a lot," said Richerson. "Our bill didn't increase but we also didn't see any savings because the system was being used more than average."

When asked if the retrofit completed in 2012 at least puts Muenster ISD on the path to realizing the double-digit electricity savings that it's vying for, Richerson simply remarked, "We hope so but only time will tell."

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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