Local News

Friday, Feb 06 2009 10:43 PM

School energy projects ‘saving millions with nickels’

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    The student recycling crew at Centennial Elementary School goes from class to class collecting used paper to recycle and learn about environmental awareness.

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BY JEFF NACHTIGAL, Californian staff writerjnachtigal@bakersfield.com

Energy Manager Steve Tolin is always on the lookout for ways to coax more energy savings in the Kern High School District.

A brand new, efficient air-chilling unit might save the district thousands over its lifespan, but many more efficiencies can be gleaned through careful inspection.

So Tolin spends time on the little stuff: sticking lightweight, data-logging thermometers on computers to track energy use; considering a motion sensor on a Pepsi machine light for nighttime shutoff; and talking up the value of closing a door or shutting off a computer monitor on his regular visits to campuses.

It all adds up.

“We're saving millions with nickels,” Tolin said.

SAVING TEACHERS

Energy efficiency isn't new — KHSD has saved more than $1.1 million through PG&E rebates since 1990. But with big state budget cuts looming, KHSD and other school districts are focusing on energy savings:

• Two years ago, the Rosedale Union School District took an aggressive look at its energy use. Everyone joined the effort to conserve, said John Mendiburu, assistant superintendent of business.

“The motivation was seeing money turned around and given back to the classroom, support, staff and for supplies,” he said.

Students at Centennial and Rosedale North elementary schools recycle paper, and the money earned goes back to their schools.

The energy saved equaled 1.5 teaching positions this year, Mendiburu said.

• By changing how it measures and tracks its HVAC and lighting systems, Fruitvale School District cut $99,000 from its utility bill last year, said Brian Prine, director of maintenance, operations and transportation.

• KHSD contracts with a consulting company to help it find identify savings. The $50,000 per month cost isn’t cheap but saves much more: in one 43-month period, the district shaved $7 million off its $25 million bill.

• If the heat is too high in a Bakersfield City school, temperatures in all 42 schools can be adjusted from a new central thermostat system.

Two months ago, the district installed automatic shutdown software on all its 4,475 workstations, saving $10,735 over one month, with the cost of software covered by a PG&E rebate, said spokesman Steve Gabbitas.

• The chiller loop project at Bakersfield College will connect three buildings so air is cooled by one chiller unit, instead of one unit for each building. The project will cost about $500,000, but seven years of utility bill savings will cover the cost.

After that, the savings are “all gravy,” said Rick Wright, Interim director of planning and facilities and a former president of the college.

• Cal State Bakersfield is adjusting its cleaning schedule so custodians will sweep and mop partly during regular university hours so lights don’t have to burn all night.

“Intuitively we think it will save us energy, on the non-technical side of savings,” said Pat Jacobs, assistant vice president of facilities.

GOING SOLAR

CSUB also plans to install solar panels mounted on the rooftops of parking canopies to generate the equivalent amount of energy as removing about 5,900 automobiles from the road, according to the school.

Kern High schools haven’t gone solar because it hasn’t been viable fiscally, said Bill Voss, KHSD director of business.

But solar options may change soon for KHSD and other districts. CSUB hosts a solar conference for schools this week.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the people side of energy management comes into play, said PG&E spokeswoman Cindy Pollard.

“It's how you use the commodities. Where you set your thermostat,” said Pollard.

That’s where Steve Tolin comes in.

“If you need it, use it, but when you’re done with it, turn it off,” Tolin tells people.

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