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Chambersburg schools cash in on energy savings

October 04, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA - When it comes to saving energy, attention to details, such as turning off computer monitors, can reap big benefits.

In the Chambersburg Area School District, saving energy has saved the district about $265,000 over the past year. The lower utility bills have come despite higher costs for electricity, gas and oil, said Connie Kelley, a former teacher who now is the district's energy educator/manager.

"We can't control our cost for energy, but you can control your consumption," Kelley said. With 25 buildings in the district, including schools, administrative and support buildings, the district has been able to cut its consumption by 17.5 percent in a year.

The district entered into a four-year contract more than a year ago with Energy Education Inc., a firm that "focuses on operational savings in schools," said Kelley, who is trained by the company, but hired by the district.

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The savings have come without retrofitting heating, air-conditioning or lighting systems, but by changing behavior and doing preventive maintenance, Kelley said. The first step was collecting baseline data from all of the buildings and utility companies that the district deals with, she said.

"I was standing at a copying machine for 19 hours copying utility bills" from 2006, she said. Electricity is the biggest energy component at 58 percent, followed by natural gas at 25 percent and heating oil at 11 percent, she said. The program also monitors propane, water and sewer usage, she said.

There was a learning curve to master, Kelley said. During the first month of the program, savings were less than 4 percent and about 8 percent in the first six months, according to Kelley's statistics. The savings rose to 27 percent in the second six months, she said.

Much of the credit goes to the custodial and maintenance staffs, who have helped reduce usage, particularly on nights, weekends and the summer by making sure everything is turned off, changing their routines to lessen consumption and maintaining equipment at peak efficiency.

The district's technology department instituted a computer network shutdown to save energy when schools and offices are closed, but "that doesn't take care of the monitors. People still have to turn off their monitors," Kelley said.

With 4,000 desktop computers, getting people to turn them off means changing behaviors, usually through gentle reminders. Kelley often will go through buildings at night and on weekends, looking and listening for machines and electronics that have been left on or are not running properly.

Some faculty and staff have returned to work to find a red card advising them that something was left on overnight, Kelley said. In one case, it was a light on a fish tank, she said.

The district's policy on appliances also was revised, resulting in fewer microwave ovens, refrigerators and candle warmers in classrooms, Kelley said. The district also keeps on top of computerized energy management systems in buildings to make sure they remain programmed correctly, she said.

Even factoring in Kelley's $71,400 salary and the $11,800 per month paid to Energy Education, the district still will save about $55,000 this year, and those savings will continue once the contract ends, said Sylvia Rockwood, the district's director of information services.

Kelley will make a presentation about the program at Wednesday's school board meeting.

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