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School district cuts energy costs $2.2 million since 2010

Friday, December 15, 2017

By Jill Dion

School officials say they have saved about $2.2 million in energy costs since embarking on an energy saving program in 2010, and they say the savings will continue to add up when solar panels are soon installed on city schools.

The Milford Public Schools embarked on an energy saving program in 2010, hiring a company called Energy Education Inc., now called Cenergistic, to help make some infrastructure changes and train staff to be more energy efficient.

School Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli said the four-year contract was for “a customized energy conservation program, based on behavioral changes.”

Jim Whitaker, hired to be the school’s energy specialist, started his job by setting out to eliminate energy waste and create an “energy conservation culture.”

Teachers today joke that they have to remember to turn off all computers and other power sources in their classrooms at day’s end for fear of getting one of Whitaker’s reminder/violation notes on their desks the next day.

Richetelli said, “We think of expensive capital improvement projects. This is an innovative way of changing the culture.”

Richetelli went over numbers at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. If the school district hadn’t embarked on the program, it might have used a little over 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity during the 2016-17 fiscal year. Instead, the district used 4.8 million kilowatt hours.

From Jan. 2011 to June 2017, instead of using 45 million kilowatt hours of electricity, which it might have done based on previous use, the district used 32.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, instead of using an anticipated 620,000 cubic feet of natural gas, the district used about 479,000 cubic feet; and from the start of the program in January 2011 to June of 2017, instead of buying 4.3 million cubic feet of natural gas, the city bought about 3.3 million.

“The environmental aspect is immense,” Richetelli said, “but we also save dollars.”

This district saved $3.7 million in energy costs since the program started in 2010-2011. The cost of the contract plus salary brought expenses to $1.5 million, for a net savings of $2,177,733.

“Which is pretty remarkable,” Richetelli said. “This program doesn’t go after those big capital improvement projects. This is the culture, turning things off when the building isn’t occupied, turning the exhaust fans off.”

Whitaker said the district saved more than was expected, pointing out savings were projected at $1.2 million and the city saved $2.2 million.

“They never expected this,” he said of the company hired to help usher in the changes, and added that the city received a handful of awards for its accomplishments, including awards from the Environmental Protection Agency and the United Illuminating Co.

When the four-year contract ended with Cenergistic in 2015, the school board allocated $124,000, and then $50,000 in 2016 and again in 2017, to fund new energy saving projects.

Patrick Bradbury, director of facilities, worked with the United Illuminating Co. to receive incentive funds, for example, to replace lights with LED lights and to expand energy control strategies in the high schools. This year those kinds of changes will continue, focusing on hallways and gyms, and extending to Harborside and East Shore middle schools.

Going solar

“We want to continue to be leaders in energy conservation,” Richetelli said. “The goal is to have solar panels on all schools in a short period of time.”

The school district has contracted with Davis Hill Development to lease roof space for 20 years for solar panels. The company will maintain and own the solar panels, and the city will purchase the energy they produce at a reduced rate.

“We're going to save money,” Richetelli said.

City and utility approvals have been received for installation of solar panels on seven schools: Jonathan Law, East Shore, Harborside, Mathewson, Pumpkin Delight, Orchard Hills and the Academy. By end of summer 2018, the panels are expected to be up and running.

Richetelli said it is hoped that more schools will be done the following summer of 2019.

“We will start working on the application/approval process once the first group is started,” Richetelli said.

Responding to a question from board member Erin Pinsince, Richetelli said that after 20 years the solar panels can be removed or the city can buy them.

“In 20 years, we will probably have advances, so I don’t know what the value of solar is going to be in 20 years,” Richetelli said. “Nobody does. But right now we know we can save money.”

Richetelli also said this is a perfect time to embark on the solar project because most of the school roofs were redone in the past five years.

“It’s too early to tell how much we will save since we have no prior experience,” he added. “In the 2018-2019 budget that we are working on now, we are assuming about a 5% reduction in cost but we hope to achieve greater savings in the future.”



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