Olentangy Valley News

District turns every stone in quest to save on energy bills

Big, small efforts have saved more than $125,000 in six months, leaders report

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For Olentangy schools, saving money can be as simple as switching off a light.

Or it can be as complicated as setting up new metering equipment and analyzing when and why energy costs spike at certain buildings.

Officials launched an effort last school year to correct both systemic problems and individual behaviors that were driving up energy costs for the district. In the first six months of the program, the district saved more than $125,000 on its electric, water and gas bills.

Jeff Gordon, director of business management for the district, said Olentangy's administration heard pitches from energy-conservation firms before deciding to tackle the project themselves.

"The discussion was: Why can't we do this ourselves?" he said. "Why would we bring somebody in that is going to take half of our savings?"

Kris Proper, an executive assistant with the district's business office, said she has been performing audits at buildings throughout the district "to verify the systems are running appropriately and to confirm that best practices are being followed."

Proper, who also is the district's interim energy conservation specialist, said part of that process has been telling custodians and other staff members to look and listen for ways to save the district money. For instance, if a custodian sees an unnecessary light that's on after hours, or hears a piece of equipment running continuously, they're advised to shut it off, if possible, and save the district money.

The district also has invested in upgraded meters and monitoring software to allow officials to investigate fluctuations in energy use at its buildings. Proper said tighter scheduling on heating and cooling efforts also has been key to producing savings.

Proper said a true mix of high- and low-tech fixes have resulted in impressive savings for the district.

Proper said the district saved $109,798 on electricity in 2013-14 compared with the previous school year by the end of February.

"We are only through February 2014 due to the fact that utility bills are delayed in reaching us," she said.

Natural-gas savings over the same time period were about $14,000, even during a bitterly cold winter. Proper said the savings likely would have been more than double that during a winter with average temperatures.

Water bills remained flat across most buildings, but district officials located eight toilets at Orange Middle School that were running too long. After they were fixed, the district saved more than $3,000.

"A $15, 15-minute change resulted in this savings," she said.

Although it is the newest high school in the district, officials discovered Olentangy Orange produced the biggest utility bills of Olentangy's three high schools.

"(That) drove me to make Orange High School my first priority when I took on this initiative," Proper said.

In the first five months of the school year, Orange's electricity bills were down about $5,000 per month compared with the previous year.

Since the conservation program began, officials have found that more teachers at Orange are turning off computers when they go home for the night.

The district also discovered and fixed a chiller at the high school that was turning on erroneously at night.

District officials said they hope to implement energy-conservation programs more widely throughout the district in upcoming school years.

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