Back on Top
Butler County tops SEMP’s district rankings
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
For the third time in four years, Butler County Schools is the state’s top energy-saving school district.
“The whole district takes pride in it because it all comes back about the kids,” said Butler County school board Vice Chairman Delbert Johnson. “If you can save money, it’s that many more things for the school system. … It’s real important to save energy.”
School districts are ranked by the School Energy Managers Project by their energy use intensity (EUI), which is calculated by dividing the total energy consumed in one year by the total gross floor area of their buildings.
Butler County’s EUI was 32.7 for 2014-15 and it was one of four districts, along with Owen County, Nelson County and Scott County, with an EUI below 40, which SEMP considers a best performer level. An additional 45 schools were at 50.0 or below which SEMP calls outstanding.
“I would say statewide, the average district improved somewhere around 15 or 16 percent improvement in EUI over the last five years, making Kentucky’s schools much more energy efficient,” said SEMP Project Manager Jon Nipple.
Nipple noted that 147 districts have improved over the last five years in terms of energy efficiency and some districts have improved as much as 40 to 60 percent.
The average EUI among the 173 districts is 57.5, which yielded an annual savings of $16.3 million during FY2015. Since 2010, schools have saved just over $58 million in consumption costs through lower energy use. When factoring in rebates, refunds, rate correction and rate case adjustments, the total savings are $68 million.
“If everyone operated at 50 EUI per square foot, it would save an additional $21.1 million annually,” Nipple said. “At 40 EUI or less, another $21.5 million could be added, which would make the total savings about $59 million each year. We could be saving as much annually as we have saved five years cumulatively by doing this.”
Nipple noted that Kentucky schools used less energy in 2014-15 than they did in 2009-10 even though the state’s schools have added over 6 million square feet.
He said the key to a district improving its energy savings is to manage cost from a consumption and demand standpoint.
“Behavioral changes are important, yet behavioral changes may disappear if students graduate or school staff leaves, so it is important to incorporate technical changes as well,” Nipple said. “Take advantage of renovations to make technology upgrades to equipment. Board members should be looking at lighting retrofits, HVAC retrofits and control retrofits. You may have to spend a little money to save a lot.”
Johnson said the key for Butler County’s energy savings is having good equipment and having an energy manager, Jimmy Arnold, who monitors energy use constantly.
“He’s on top of everything. The way he’s got it set up, it’s just out of this world,” Johnson said. “He monitors every room, every building, everything. … He’s on top of it. That’s the main thing.
“We conserve. Everything is monitored. Cutting back here, cutting back there, but still making sure our kids are OK,” he said.
Johnson said if a piece of equipment starts to not work properly, it would cost more in the long run not to fix it, so the district tries to keep it updated. “If you save money on energy, it’ll pay for itself in the long run,” he said.
Nipple said districts shouldn’t worry about where they are in the rankings, unless they’re at the top.
“Worry about where you’ve come from,” he said. “Have you been making progress? Worry about which direction you’re moving in. Are you getting better or worse? And then the last question as a board member you should be asking is what did we do to get better or worse? Did we have district policies? Are we following them? Do we have energy teams? Are we using them? Those are the tough issues. Am I getting an annual review? If you’re not getting an annual review, it’s awfully hard to monitor something.”
Curbing electrical demand during times of high usage is a key way to save money on energy, according to Nipple. He noted that during peak demand times, utility companies give customers incentives to use less demand through their rate structures.
“I don’t expect board members to be experts in demand but someone on your staff better be, because half of your cost of electricity is probably going to be in demand charges,” Nipple said. “So it’s not just kilowatt hours anymore – it’s demand you’re going to be paying for.”
Moreover, the cost of electricity has increased about 16 percent over the past five years and the cost is going up about 3 percent a year.
Though Kentucky had the lowest electricity cost in the nation for years, “we’re going to see that disappear in the next few years,” Nipple warned.