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Administrator Magazine
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Big Energy Bill?

Creative solutions for cutting your costs.

As schools' reliance on technology grows, it's no surprise that energy continues to be a major line item for most districts, exceeding the cost of books and supplies in some parts of the country, according to information from the U.S. Department of Energy's EnergySmart Schools program. So it follows that savvy administrators are looking for creative solutions to keep their energy costs down.

In California, Fowler Unified School District has become the first to take advantage of the California Solar Initiative, a new state program that offers solar energy rebates to schools and businesses. While the solar panels cost a whopping $4.8 million to install, the district estimates the panels will save $439,000 in the first year, and that Fowler schools will receive an additional $800,000 in rebates during the first five years. (Over 25 years, Fowler can look forward to saving more than $13 million.)

Meanwhile, New York City schools are saving through friendly competition. Last May, in a program called the Green Cup Challenge, the district tasked school leaders with cutting their monthly energy bills, offering $100,000 in grants to the schools that reduced their bills the most. The top winner, Martin Luther King Jr. High School, cut its bill by 35 percent, and will use its grant money to pay for further energy improvements.

Finally, in Oregon, schools can apply for low-cost loans from the state to pay for energy upgrades. The Dallas School District outside Salem was one of the first to take advantage of the Cool Schools plan, which went into effect this summer. Superintendent Christy Perry says the investment has not only saved $150,000, but the new lighting has helped migraine sufferers work more easily and improved the overall educational environment.

Cheap and Easy Fixes
You can reduce your energy bill even if you don't have grant or loan money. Here are some low-cost measures recommended by the government program EnergyStar.

  • Turn off the lights when classrooms aren't occupied. Include students in this effort by posting reminders above light switches.
  • Cool down the building when not in use. If sports or extra-curriculars keep your building busy until late in the day, see if you can turn down some areas while keeping others at temperature.
  • Get students involved. Nominate "energy monitors" to look for left-on lights, computers, and other devices.
  • Perform regular maintenance. Broken heating and cooling systems mean kissing money goodbye!
  • Measure and track energy use. You might be surprised to find obvious areas where you can cut back. Maybe you're paying too much, for example, to keep the building warm during Christmas vacation, or perhaps you can find (and close!) windows that are perpetually left open.

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