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Montana: Conservation Rewards In SMART Billings Schools

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Billings Gazette

By: Casey Page

Gov. Steve Bullock toured Senior High last week to present a school energy-saving award. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney is scheduled to present a similar SMART Schools Challenge Award at Alkali Creek Elementary this morning. With Meadowlark Elementary also a SMART Schools winner, three of four awards statewide will go to Billings Public Schools.

In fact, every Billings school is an energy efficiency champion. Since the school district started a comprehensive energy efficiency program in July 2008, it has made changes to save an estimated $5 million in energy costs. That’s a savings of 22 percent from what the district would have paid without enlisting staff and students to turn off lights and computers, reducing heat and lights when buildings aren’t occupied and careful investment in higher energy efficiency windows, doors, lights and HVAC systems.

The annual savings has grown because the schools continue to improve efficiency, saving limited money that can be used for teachers and classroom needs.

63% savings at Senior

Although every one of the district’s 33 buildings has shown significant improvement, the biggest savings is in the largest buildings. Senior, for example, had energy bills of $18,088 for the month of January. That is an amazing 63 percent lower than costs would have been without conservation measures. The savings for January alone totaled $30,932.

These cost savings figures are derived from independent industry performance measures and verification protocols. Actual temperatures are factored into the calculation. The energy efficiency of each school building has been verified by the U.S. Department of Energy for Energy Star ratings.

Alkali Creek avoided $2,328 in energy costs in January, paring its bill to $3,600. Meadowlark saved $408 to reduce its bill to $3,154. Counting all district buildings, energy costs for January were 31.3 percent lower — $98,505 less — than they would have been without the conservation program.

School principals receive monthly reports on their building’s energy usage and savings. Good as the results have been, school leaders see that more must be done.

“Our district average Energy Star score is 88,” said Scott Reiter, director of facilities. “It is our goal to increase that district average by one point each year over the next five years. Energy conservation is important at all SD2 facilities, not only because it saves money, but also, it is the right thing to do.”

Recycling lessons

The district’s energy savings between July 2008 and January 2016 is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 28,738 metric tons.

While the schools are practicing good stewardship of limited dollars, students are learning to conserve and avoid waste. Other great conservation lessons are found in the schools’ recycling programs. Will James Middle School is honored this year as one of four Montana schools topping the state recycling competition.

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