Leon schools push to save energy
District cutting costs with efficient lights, temperature control
By TaMaryn Waters
DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
The Leon County School District is vigorously searching for ways to save a buck, which explains why energy conservation is in full swing.
Small steps, such as closing doors and windows and turning off computers, are done by teachers and others. More extensive efforts — changing room temperatures up or down by a single degree, installing new software that will shut down idle computers and detaching chillers in all water fountains — are in the works, too.
With just those three major efforts, which are done or on track for completion, the district could save $903,800 annually. Officials are hoping to save another $930,500 in a three-year period once they replace current lights with low-wattage lights, install energy-efficient chillers in schools and install remote temperature controls.
Manny Joanos, director of energy for the school district, said he and his staff have hosted dozens of meetings at schools with the hopes of sharing how essential staffers are in conserving energy.
"We’re doing everything we can," Shelly Bell, principal at Cobb Middle School, said.
Since the school recently added two new computer labs and another building for chorus, her staff is working even harder to save energy.
Bell also would like solar panels installed. So far, getting them throughout the district has been a slow process.
Oak Ridge Elementary and Montford Middle schools are the only public schools with solar-powered equipment in a partnership with the city.
Joanos said the ultimate goal is to get more solar power throughout the district, but that takes money. In the meantime, he said other efforts are helping to keep more money in the general-fund balance, which is used to pay mostly salaries.
He’s heard concerns from some parents about efforts like turning off chillers in more than 700 water fountains in schools. But he said it’s a small sacrifice.
"When you balance it against jobs, I think we can drink room-temperature water for a while," Joanos said.
Although the district has consumed less energy, particularly in recent years, expenses have gone up. The district went from spending $4.2 million for its gas and electric bill in the 2006-2007 school year, compared to $4.4 million as of December.
"Even though our consumption went down, our costs went up," said Paul Byrd, assistant superintendent of support services for Leon County Schools. "It’s a double whammy … We can complain about the rates, but the city sets the rates."
The city recently shaved some of its rates. Joanos said the school district should get about an 11-percent decrease, so school officials are hoping that will make a difference.
According to the Florida Public Service Commission, a 2007 report on typical electric bill comparisons of cities and municipals of similar size showed how much a utility bill at a large middle school would cost. A middle school, such as Montford Middle School, would have a $18,895 bill from the city, which was the top of the list for a 150,000 kilowatt demand. But Talquin Electric’s rates would charge the same school $14,130.
While school officials are looking at ways to save now, other ideas have surfaced.