11/15/13 ABSS energy savings add up

ABSS energy savings add up
School system has realized $3 million from program
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 11/15/13  
Reprinted with permission.

Energy Savings  

   MEBANE — The school district has saved more than $3 million on utilities over the past few years in spite of some cold winters, thanks to an energy saving program.

   This is the beginning of the fourth year of the Alamance-Burlington School System’s energy conservation program.

   Randa Meehan, the system’s energy specialist or “energy czar,” as some have called her, told the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education about the program at its November work session at Hawfields Middle School.

   She audits 20 to 25 buildings a week in the system, looking for lights on after hours, running toilets and improperly set thermostats.

   “That’s what all this is about,” Meehan said, “changing behavior.”

   Meehan started by talking face-to-face with principals and school employees about the goals of the program.

   She looks over the bills as soon as they come in to look for odd spikes that could show fixable problems.

   She also goes into schools looking for problems, like an overflowing toilet she found in a school the day after Thanksgiving. It ended up costing the school about $2,000, she told the board, but would have been worse if it had gone until Monday.

   She is not on her own. The system contracted with Cenergistic Inc., formerly Energy Education. The Dallas-based company works with client organizations, including many school systems around the country, to reduce energy consumption by changing behavior rather than equipment upgrades.

   It uses a proprietary method, including data analysis and training, and a software system called Energy CAP to monitor and reduce energy use. That software cost ABSS $12,000 for the first year and $1,200 a year after that, according to the contract.

   Cenergistic, according to its fi ve-year contract with ABSS, gets paid 40 percent of the district’s savings billed every quarter. The fi rst eight months were free. After the program’s fifth year, the company provides services for free.

   The school system did not give the Times-News the amounts it has paid Cenergistic as of press time. But 40 percent of $3.1 million in total savings over 40 months, minus 20 percent for the eight months of free service, comes to a little more than $1 million. ABSS did not give Meehan’s salary by press time either.

   That still leaves close to $2 million in net savings for the school system in a little over three years.

   “If nothing else, we are showing we are conservators of our environment,” Meehan told the board.

   Electricity costs for ABSS have come down in spite of a 24 percent rise in electricity rates, some cold winters and the addition of the Career Technical Education Center and additions built on other schools.

   Water and sewer rates have gone up nearly 25 percent, according to ABSS.

   The system has cut its electrical use by nearly 26 percent, its natural gas by 16 percent and water and sewer by 13 percent, compared to the 2008-09 year it uses as a base.

   Meehan said school administrators are getting the message and getting better at cutting utility costs on their own.

   There still seems to be room for improvement.

   School-capacity consultants Tom Hughes and Mike Miller included a school-by-school energy consumption analysis with the report they gave the board in September.

   It showed local schools are spending less on energy now than five years ago, but there is a lot of variation sometimes even between similar school buildings.

   Hughes said that points to behavior, turning off computers and lights, or not.