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A Common-Sense Target for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability
The trend is disheartening. School districts across the country have been and continue to be financially-strapped, such as what has occurred in Chicago. The resulting budget ax leads to schools closing and teacher firings among other drastic measures. So what, you might be asking given the nature of this blog site, do these unfortunate developments have to do with energy efficiency and sustainability? Here’s a hint. There are cost-saving solutions that undermine the educational experience (i.e. Chicago), and there are cost-saving solutions that can actually enhance the educational experience (read on).
For example, when schools districts undergo badly-needed school modernization efforts or construct new buildings, a fiscal nod should be given to energy efficiency and sustainability solutions. Eco-Source Technologies  (EST) believe whatever additional upfront investments are needed, and many avenues are available to lessen the level of expenditure, will surely pale in comparison to the long-term reduction in spending these products can help produce going forward.
Kate Zerrenner of the Environmental Defense Fund has an article called “America’s Schools On The ABCs of Energy Efficiency” from April 8th. As she states:
“I keep track of stories about the benefits of energy efficiency. By that, I don’t just mean data and figures, rather stories about the real, tangible and positive impacts saving energy can have on everyday people. We live in a data-driven world, especially those of us who work on energy and climate issues, but it’s the stories about people that really stay with us. In the past few months, I’ve noticed a quite a few stories from local papers around the country discussing the benefits that schools have seen from implementing customer, or demand-side solutions such as energy efficiency, on-site renewables, like rooftop solar, and demand response (DR) initiatives which allow customers to voluntarily reduce their high electricity use and receive a payment for doing so in the process.”
The article recounts, mostly, what has been transpiring in parts of Kentucky. The state is more known for its coal production industry than enacting environmental-friendly policies, but that lebel is beginning to be shed. The compelling examples are mixture of initiative and creativity with a strategic plan that yields outstanding results:
The featured school, Richardsville Elementary in Warren County/, has made some impressive improvements, from installing geothermal heating and cooling, bamboo gym floors, solar panels on the school rooftop and in the parking lot, efficient cooking technologies in the cafeteria to using a ton of natural lighting. As a result, the school receives zero utility bills. But the two most compelling pieces of this story are the energy costs and the educational opportunities.
Kentucky has some of the cheapest electricity prices in the country. Many states, particularly in the southern U.S., also have low electricity prices. This can mean the cost incentive is not as powerful for energy efficiency. But I would argue that, regardless of electricity prices, schools always have an incentive to save money. With schools, for every energy dollar saved, one more dollar goes to good teachers, textbooks and computers. And the non-monetary incentives are extra important when talking about children, whose developing lungs need the cleaner, indoor air and more natural lighting that come with efficiently-designed schools, as detailed in my previous post on schools.
Additionally, these impressive and innovative energy conservation efforts offer educational opportunities, such as displays in the school that teach students different environmental issues, like recycling and geothermal energy. For instance, at Richardsville, the students can actually monitor the schools solar panels to see how they produce electricity.
Zerrenner concludes by explaining all of the benefits that occur by adopting this forward-thinking strategy:
Greening our schools saves money on electricity bills, despite what the local going price of electricity is. But there are additional, significant advantages to an environmentally friendly school:
* Improved indoor and outdoor air quality, essential for better learning and protection for developing lungs and brains;
* More interest in math and sciences as students observe and participate in how the school conserves energy and water; and
* Increased societal change when the kids reteach what they’ve learned and help influence the behavior of their households to conserve energy and water, thus lowering household utility bills.
At EST we have had discussions with the powers that be when it comes to Washington, DC public schools. The city has been undergoing a massive school modernization effort, with the backing of Mayor Vincent Gray to do more. With dollars for schools being so precious its time to make prudent decisions across the country, by looking for smart opportunities for savings. Energy efficiency and sustainability is a surefire way to achieve that goal. It won’t alleviate all the fiscal challenges, but any measure that prevents even some of harmful actions that the decision-makers are choosing from should be welcome.
By: John Norton