Students lead the way in school energy savings
By Tom Blankenship
One of the challenges facing school boards today is the rapidly increasing cost of providing a safe and healthy environment for our students.
The cost of energy required to operate K-12 schools in Kentucky has more than doubled since 2000, and events are already in motion that will push those costs even higher over the next few years. In response to this growing problem, dedicated groups of teachers, students and administrators throughout the state are working to make their schools more efficient, help the environment and preserve energy dollars for education.
The foundation for this effort was laid in 2008 with the passage of KRS 160.325 by the Kentucky General Assembly. In the few years since, every public school district in Kentucky has begun to focus on energy management and the many benefits it offers.
While every district has a unique approach to this challenge, student involvement is a universal element of the most successful energy management programs.
Kentucky students have been involved in energy audits, lighting studies, waste management, building automation, peer tutoring and every conceivable strategy for making their schools greener and more efficient.
Where the talent and enthusiasm of our students has been unleashed to tackle this problem, the results have been surprising even to seasoned energy professionals.
One high school energy group received national recognition this year for its efforts to raise awareness about energy conservation within its school district. The Energy Aficionados of Cooper High School in Boone County were recognized as the National Senior Level Rookie of the Year by the National Energy Education Development Project, more commonly known by its acronym, NEED.
Utilizing NEED curriculum and adding their own enthusiasm, Cooper High School Energy Team members reached out to their entire community – from elementary schools to local businesses and community residents.
Cooper High School students held Energy Carnivals at area elementary schools, helping to educate younger students on the many sources of energy for schools. With the help of the school’s media team, they also produced a series of videos promoting the importance of recycling and energy conservation.
Using recycled materials as an “entry fee” for student and community events, their goal was to collect enough plastics to provide a green picnic table for their school.
Another example of student leadership in energy management comes from Lincoln County High School. Students formed an energy team in January 2011 and immediately began looking for savings opportunities. The energy team enrolled the school in the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools program, completing a detailed survey of the building’s energy use.
With the help of the Kentucky Energy Efficiency Program for Schools, they also completed an energy assessment that included HVAC, lighting, water heating, refrigeration and plug loads. After receiving the completed assignment report, the students took action and achieved some tremendous results.
After consulting with the district’s HVAC technician, the students were able to adjust the operating temperatures of the school’s heating units and save thousands of dollars worth of natural gas.
The lighting study indicated that the high school’s library was overlit, so students participated in a de-lamping project that reduced lighting energy by 25 percent without affecting the educational environment.
Finally, the team received a grant from the Green and Healthy schools group to purchase Vending Misers for the school’s beverage vending machines. These devices could reduce the energy used by vending machines when no one is around to use them.
As a result of these and other projects, the school’s monthly energy use has been reduced by more than 15 percent.
The achievements of the students at these two schools are impressive, and they represent only a small part of the tremendous effort that is currently under way. T.J. Poliskie, school energy manager for the central Kentucky region, says, “Working with students has been our most effective strategy for conserving energy in schools.
“Their dedication and enthusiasm have delivered results even in schools with the most modern energy-efficient technology in place. I continue to be surprised by just how much they can achieve.”
Schools throughout Kentucky have identified more than $4.5 million in annual energy savings during the past 12 months. As more of our students and teachers become involved, the savings will continue to grow. We should expect nothing less, given the leadership, talent and motivation these students have shown.
I strongly encourage every school board member to seek out the energy teams in your schools. Your support will help them maximize their potential and leave a positive, lasting impact on their schools and on the future of education in Kentucky.
— Blankenship is also the vice chairman of the Lincoln County Board of Education