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Michigan: Battle Creek Schools save $5M in energy

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Enquirer

Katie OliveriĀ 

Thanks to an energy conservation program, Battle Creek Public Schools has saved more than $5 million over nine years, investing those dollars back into the classroom through technology purchases.

Steve Osborn, energy manager for BCPS, said the district signed a $446,000 contract with Energy Education Inc. back in 1997.

Officials from the Texas-based company "came in and taught us how to save energy," Osborn said.

He said students, teachers, staff and administrators have been conditioned to do simple tasks to save energy, including turning off lights in classrooms and shutting down computers when they aren't being used.

BCPS' contract with Energy Education concluded in 2001, but the company still provides services to the district, according to Osborn.

The company develops and implements customized energy-conservation programs that enable public school districts to redirect the energy dollars they save to educational opportunities and resources, according to Energy Education's Web site.

Energy Education officials analyzed the energy use in district buildings. Through an energy-monitoring software program, BCPS tracked its energy conservation and savings over the years by inputting energy bills and each day's weather for that specific year.

"Everyone in the district has a responsibility of using energy wisely," Osborn said.

In turn, those utility cost savings allowed BCPS to implement an incentive program, giving back that money to each building.

"We've taken the funds and reinvested in technology," Osborn said.

Money allocated to each building through the program was used to buy technology equipment.

Digital cameras, projectors and video equipment were among the items purchased, Osborn said.

Every building in the district has received technology upgrades, Osborn said. The district purchased between 3,000 and 4,000 computers districtwide with the money.

He said the energy-monitoring software looks at energy use, not costs, and detects if consumption is off or unusual for that time of year.

After entering energy bills for 2005-06 and comparing them with previous bills, the district can see "how we used to run buildings compared to how we are running them now."

"From that, we can tell if a pipe is leaking or if there's abnormal usage based on what we should be using and how much it costs," Osborn said. "We've found a lot of mistakes in buildings that way."

For example, in November, the energy bill for C.W. Post Stadium was abnormally high based on data compiled in the tracking program. Osborn said it turned out that an electrical heater had been left on in the press box.

Osborn said he and his crew are constantly monitoring buildings, cleaning boilers and classroom vents and doing other maintenance work to save energy.

"We're taking what we have and making it run efficiently," Osborn said. "We're only using the energy we need to maintain buildings and also keeping classrooms at a comfortable temperature" during the school year.

Osborn said temperatures are lower when buildings are unoccupied, specifically during the summer.

"We don't sacrifice comfort," Osborn said. "We want the buildings to be comfortable, especially when they're occupied."

The district has added time clocks and controls to boilers, allowing it to use current equipment more efficiently, Osborn said.

Osborn said in 2003, 17 districts in Michigan were using Energy Education; now about 45 districts across the state use the program.

Lakeview School District also has used Energy Education. Gordon Dyke, Lakeview's operations director, said the district had a $120,000 contract with Energy Education from 1999 to 2003.

Lakeview's cost avoidance during the four-year contract was $323,465, Dyke said.

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