New energy conservation program expected to save school district millions

November 26, 2022

By Lisa O’Donnell

WINSTON-SALEM — Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will soon begin an energy conservation program that has the potential to save the district millions of dollars over the next five years while reducing the district’s carbon footprint.

The school board this month approved a contract with Cenergistic, a Texas-based energy and sustainability company that works with schools, universities and local governments to cut energy costs.

The contract calls for the district to pay a bit more each year with the expectation that it will see an incremental increase in energy savings. By the end of the fifth year, the school district will pay about $1.4 million for the company’s services and expect to see its energy bill cut by about $3 million. In all, company officials project the school district will see a net savings of $6.8 million by the end of the contract.

Lauren Richards, the chief of operations, told the school board earlier this month that the company is confident that it can find the savings it has projected and that the risk of losing money is “very minimal.”

“When we talk about things like shutting off light switches and turning Promethean boards off, while those things are extremely valuable, that is not the crux of this,” Richards said. “This is a 360-degree approach to our buildings. This partnership will allow us to look at all things energy in our facilities and figure out new ways to find energy reductions.”

The company will conduct an energy audit of each of the district’s buildings and create dashboards for each school so that energy use can be monitored in real time.

Based on those dashboard readings, district leaders can better monitor energy output, Richards said.

“If there are two buildings with the same footprint but one is using more energy than the other, what’s happening there? We’ll really be diving into that information,” she said.

Steve Jones, a regional vice president with Cenergistic, said performance metrics will be set at each school but schools will be measured against themselves, not other schools.

“A school that was built in 2020 is not going to perform the way one built in 1920 will,” he said.

Board member Leah Crowley asked how restrictive some of the cost-cutting measures will be.

“Are we going to be asking kids to be wearing winter coats in the classroom?” she asked.

Jones answered the classroom environment will remain comfortable.

“It’s not turn off the lights, turn off the heat and let’s save a bunch of money,” he said. “The degradation of the classroom environment is non-negotiable.”

Cenergistic will have materials about its program that teachers can weave into their curriculum, Richards said.

The program will start at a time when district officials are experiencing a spike in energy costs, she said.

Money that the district saves on energy will go toward maintenance and operations projects. Some examples include installing solar panels and buying electric vehicles, including buses, Richards said.