Energy efficiency list

Energy efficiency list

Owen County Schools’ no-frills approach lands it on top of energy efficiency list
 
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2017
 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
The No. 1 most energy-efficient school district in Kentucky in 2015-16 did not rely on high-tech bells and whistles to get the job done – it was mostly just good, old-fashioned management. Owen County Schools returned to the top spot after Butler County wrested away that title the year before. The standings are based on energy use intensity, which measures energy use per square foot.

Regional energy manager Brian Linder knows the before-and-after story of Owen County Schools’ energy efficiency turnaround. Back when he worked for Owen Electric, he was asked to look into the high school’s concern about its high electric bills.

“We came out here in the middle of July during the week, no school was in, the gymnasium was at maybe 68 degrees – it was really cold,” said Linder, who now numbers Owen County among the districts he serves as energy manager. “What that tells you is that there was no management going on. They had this nice, Cadillac system but they just didn’t have the people in place to manage it.”
 
Plant Manager Billy Bramblett checks setpoints in the HVAC
control system at Owen County’s Lower Elementary School.
 

That changed when Director of Maintenance Dan Logan began “digging into the numbers,” with the help of the electric company and later with the district’s first energy manager, Jon Nipple.

“We started breaking it down by school and really micro-ing it to the point where ‘Why are we getting these numbers and what can we do to improve?’” Logan said.
The district didn’t respond by spending a lot of money on upgrades, though. Instead, it developed its energy management plan and focused on “getting control of what we already had,” Logan said.

“Once we started doing that, our kBtus per square foot started dropping consistently every year. For the last six years, it has gone down every year,” he said. “From a mechanical standpoint, we’ve spent very little money – it’s just management.”

This approach is what makes Owen County Schools unique, Linder said. “They haven’t spent a lot of money. They haven’t gone through and done a lot of LED changeovers and stuff. It’s mainly using the capability they have to manage to make things better,” he said. “Now when we come in in July, the gymnasium isn’t 68 degrees anymore – it’s probably 78 or 80 degrees if nobody is going to be in there. So that is where you see the savings.”

The district did get a big assist with construction of a new middle school with lots of energy-efficient features. After a year of operation, it ranked 98 on the ENERGY STAR measure.

“The key to that, though, is over the course of the next six years to the current date is that the middle school is still at about a 97 ENERGY STAR rating,” Logan said. “Just because something is given to you that is energy-efficient doesn’t mean you can walk away from it. You have to keep an eye on the controls, you have to see if the setbacks are working correctly. You can’t just take it for granted that just because the architect designed you an ENERGY STAR school doesn’t mean it’s hands free – it requires constant management.”
Getting control
So what is involved in getting control of a school’s energy use? Logan said it ranges from getting the staff to turn off their computer screens and light switches to night setback systems that control the entire building. Custodial staff even plan out how a building is cleaned with energy efficiency in mind: They know how long it takes to clean a wing, for example, and the controls are programmed to automatically setback after that section is done. “That’s how detailed they get with controlling the HVAC,” Logan said.

A maintenance technician is stationed in each school along with custodians in Owen County’s decentralized approach, “so they personally take care of that building,” Logan said, even though the technicians work together on districtwide projects. Having one person focused on a building provides a “tremendous advantage in energy savings,” he added.

Now that the district has achieved some savings through building control, that savings can be used for other energy-saving projects, like more efficient lighting, Linder said. But any improvements will be carefully analyzed, Logan said, “to be sure we don’t jump at the first thing that comes by … It’s not just about putting in an energy-efficient bulb and walking away saying, ‘We’re saving money.’ It’s about creating the proper environment for learning as well.”

Superintendent Rob Stafford said being No. 1 in energy efficiency sends a broader message to the community. “Even though you may have people in the district that don’t know exactly what’s going on, that don’t know the numbers, they do know that we try to be a very efficient district. That’s important from my perspective because we deal with taxpayers’ money and we need them to know that we scrutinize every dollar they give us to educate children and we don’t waste it.”
 
Board View: An unexpected journey into energy management

When he took his seat on the Owen County school board in 2011, Dr. Larry Johnson never dreamed he would be dealing with energy management issues.

Now, he and the board get a district energy report card presented by Director of Maintenance Dan Logan at every board meeting.

“We review that to see where we stand this year compared to the year before, a couple years before. We want to know how we’re doing,” Johnson said. “Most of it is keeping the board informed and seeing the outlay of funds on what we spend on energy and comparing year to year and making projections for the future. That way, the board can monitor things and make sure we’re not getting out of line in one area or another.”

Logan praises the board for making energy management a priority. Board members, he said, “are in tune with what we are trying to do.” 
 
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