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Pitt County Schools conserving energy, money

An ongoing program in Pitt County Schools is not only conserving energy in the district, but also is saving money.

Since starting the Pitt County Schools Energy Conservation Program in August 2014, the district has spent 14.3 percent less on electricity, water, sewer and gas, saving an estimated $1.4 million.

The Reflector – Lucas Simonds

An ongoing program in Pitt County Schools is not only conserving energy in the district, but also is saving money.

Since starting the Pitt County Schools Energy Conservation Program in August 2014, the district has spent 14.3 percent less on electricity, water, sewer and gas, saving an estimated $1.4 million.

Grant Anderson and Fred Collard of Cenergistic, an energy conservation company the district has partnered with to run the program, presented the results on Aug. 22 to the Pitt County Board of Education’s finance and operations committee.

“We’ve been very diligent about managing the buildings and meeting the building needs while controlling what’s going on,” Anderson said. “We expect the upward trend to continue.”

The savings touted by the program are based on comparing energy usage now to usage in the baseline year of August 2013 to July 2014, with adjustments made for weather, energy load, price and other factors.

In the first full year of the program — February 2015 to January — the district saved 17.4 percent on energy, equal to $931,875. Looking at the total square footage of the district’s schools, that equates to energy spending of $1.18 per square foot compared to $1.36 per square foot in the baseline year.

In terms of environmental impact, the program savings are equal to a reduction in emissions of 3,706 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to taking 776 cars off the road for one year, according to Collard.

“As staff have gotten involved and we’ve gotten buy-in in the buildings, we’ve seen it getting better and better,” Collard said. “And this isn’t Grant or (me), that’s each teacher out there, custodians, principals really looking at their spaces, figuring out how to maximize the air, lights and all that to their program and activities.”

The program is based primarily on changing the behavior and culture in the schools in regard to energy usage. Staff are trained and encouraged to set thermostats higher when cooling and lower when heating, use more natural light and less electrical lighting when possible and to always turn equipment off when not in use, especially during school breaks. Energy usage is then monitored by Anderson and Collard with proprietary energy accounting software to look for ways to further reduce usage.

While most of the savings come through small changes in the schools, the program also has identified some areas where the district was being charged too much for what was used, Anderson said.

“We had some special savings, which was actually a refund from the Town of Farmville for demand billing that we found during a review of the utility bills for those schools,” Anderson said. “It just didn’t look right. So we dug into it, talked with the town, and they realized that when they changed systems for measuring demand, which is a component for how they bill electricity, that the demand wasn’t resetting properly … for the high school, the demand was stuck at the maximum value for 12 consecutive months.”

Farmville has refunded $34,294 to Pitt County Schools for several months before January, and the town is expected to refund an estimated $25,000 more for months after January, Anderson said.

In another instance, the program revealed that the rate charged to Ayden-Grifton High School for athletics field lighting was above average compared to the other high schools in the county.

“We were on a rate structure for the baseball field at Ayden-Grifton that meant if you turned the lights on in any given billing period, you could turn them off again five minutes later and we’d still get a bill for about $1,800,” Anderson said. “It was based on the demand charge, which didn’t make sense, because we use the ball field lights at night, a low demand period. So we went to the town, and they came up with a new rate schedule that took us from $1,800 down to about $200, and that’s every month.”

These are only two examples of how the district benefits by closely monitoring energy usage across all the schools, Anderson said.

“This is the beauty of the software,” Anderson said. “We use something called EnergyCap software. … It’s proprietary, and we pay a hefty license fee each year, but these are the tools they teach us. How to go in and find things that don’t look right.”

While the energy and cost savings are good for the county, however, the potential effects of higher or lower than average temperatures on the classroom are a concern, Chairman Benjie Forrest said.

“You guys are doing a great job. … We really do appreciate everything you’ve done,” Forrest said. “We want to make sure that our savings, and everything we do that’s more efficient, does not affect what’s going on in the classroom. And I’ll tell you, I’ve had some calls, mostly from the spouses of teachers.”

Concerns raised by teachers and their families have centered primarily on teachers who need to work in their classroom after the normal cut-off time for air conditioning or classrooms that are not a comfortable temperature by the start of the school day because the system was not turned on soon enough, Forrest said.

There is a system in place for staff to request air conditioning or heat outside of the normal school hours, Anderson said. He said it is difficult to please everyone, particularly when multiple classrooms are controlled by a single thermostat.

“We really try to be very attentive to their concerns,” Anderson said. “In most cases, we get out to the building the same day, and we can put in data loggers to try to find out if it’s an equipment issue, a scheduling issue, or maybe just doors are being left propped open that shouldn’t, and we can fix it.”

Despite these concerns, the program has been an overall positive for the district, according to Matt Johnson, executive director of operations for Pitt County Schools.

“It’s not only getting our people into the habits of not keeping the windows open or turning the lights off,” Johnson said. “It is getting the habits changed, but it’s also getting the extra set of eyes and ears with these guys to help us troubleshoot and find things that we might not have seen before because we just don’t have the manpower to have feet on the ground at every site. And it hasn’t cost us a thing.”

The district has not allocated any new money to pay Cenergistic for their partnership in the program. Cenergistic’s fees are paid from the already allocated utility budget and are based on the savings in energy costs. Cenergistic is paid 50 percent of the money saved by the program, according to Debra Baggett, the chief financial officer for Pitt County Schools, who noted they were not paid for the initial period from August 2014 to January 2015.

For the first full year of the program, Cenergistic was paid $465,938, leaving an actual savings to the district in energy costs of $465,938.