Energy Manager Cuts Costs, Pushes for Solar at Mason City Schools

MASON CITY, Iowa — Rich Patras, the energy manager for the Mason City Community School District, says he has saved the district over $5 million during his 20 years in the position.

$5,401,045 to be exact.

Patras is passionate about his job within the district. Some nights he will swing by the school buildings just to check and see if there are lights on. If so, he’ll go in and shut them off.

During the winter break, when teachers and other staff are off, that’s when he’s the most active within the school buildings.

“I’m making sure that things are not running if they’re not supposed to be running,” Patras said. “I’m making sure that we don’t freeze up anything, and that’s a biggie. Because I lower temperatures in buildings. When no one’s around, I’m not heating up buildings much. I have to watch things pretty closely.”

At the Dec. 7 Mason City Board of Education meeting, Patras shared his annual Energy Conservation Program Board Update, in which he shared the money the district was saved and how it was done.

Between July of 2019 to June of 2020, Patras explained that the district was able to save $321,111 – 27.7% of what the expected energy cost was. That’s the most money the district has saved in the past eight years.

“If I can save a little bit at a lot of different places, then in the typical year I can save $300,000. That’s huge,” Patras said.

One of the ways Patras has saved in the past include negotiating bills with energy businesses. He’s taken $175,000 energy bills and negotiated them down to $25,000. He says he’s also constantly looking ahead of time to buy gas when it’s at its cheapest – not necessarily when the district needs it.

Patras has had input in some of the biggest projects the district has undertaken – like implementing cost-friendly energy methods when the Lincoln Intermediate and Roosevelt Elementary buildings were built. The two buildings are now the most energy-efficient in the district, according to Patras.

From large projects like buildings, to things as small as unplugging phone chargers when they’re not in use, his job is about saving pennies. And his opinion holds weight within the district.

At the end of the board meeting in early December, he urged board members to consider a solar project at Hoover Elementary.

“I’ve been bringing it up every year that we need to do a solar project,” Patras said. “Not only to emphasize and save some money – because we would and it would be very profitable for us – but what a great educational tool.”

Patras said Hoover Elementary is an ideal location due to the directional aspects of the building. Hoover has a southern exposure, which is exactly what Patras said is best. There are also minimal trees and an optimal amount of space. “You can put it on the south side of the building and put it on towers. Never put it on the roof,” Patras said at the meeting. “It would shade the building when it’s summer, and when it’s lower, it would still do a good job.”

Board President Lorrie Lala and Director Jacob Schweitzer expressed interest in the project. Schweitzer asked if Patras had done any research on the project, to which Patras responded by saying he’s been to meetings but never pushed it past that point.

Patras is waiting for the go-ahead from district officials and approval from the board.

“I think the city did some solar on the library and I think there’s some that are out there,” Schweitzer said. “I’d be curious what the return on investment would be.”

With more solar projects happening across North Iowa, like NIACC and Sukup Manufacturing, Patras is hoping members of the community can start pushing for the project to happen in the Mason City district as well.

Read the full story in the Globe Gazette here.

About Mason Community Schools

Mason City Community Schools is a public school district headquartered in Mason City, Iowa. It is entirely in Cerro Gordo County and serves the city and surrounding rural areas.

About Cenergistic

Since 1986 Cenergistic has partnered with 1470+ educational, municipal government and healthcare organizations to achieve $5.8 billion in utility savings and cost avoidance. These strong results come from the application of Cenergistic’s organizational behavior-based strategies and are enhanced by our proprietary software platform to drive building and equipment optimization. Our energy conservation program reduces utility consumption by an average of 25% with no capital investment while maintaining or improving the comfort and quality of building environments. For more than a decade, Cenergistic has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year or Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence. To learn more, visit http://www.cenergistic.com/.

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