Written By: Kim Archer
Tulsa-area school districts have saved millions of dollars over the years through energy conservation, and many credit the efforts with saving jobs and programs that otherwise would fall victim to state budget cuts.
“Every dollar we can keep and not throw at a utility company makes me a happy camper,” said Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow.
Six area school districts are working with the national consulting firm Energy Education to carve savings from each district’s energy use.
According to Energy Education figures, Tulsa, Jenks, Bixby, Bristow, Sapulpa and Sand Springs districts have saved more than $15.5 million by changing how and when energy is used.
Snow said Sand Springs has saved more than 20 percent in energy costs over the past seven years.
“The program has been a big success story for us,” he said.
Among the districts working with Energy Education, the Jenks school district has saved the most money – about $9.7 million – because it has participated in the program longer than the others.
“Reaching this savings mark of $9,659,179 is a significant milestone, and we have doubled our building square footage throughout our district since 1998. That is amazing,” said Nancy McKay, the district’s chief financial officer.
During the past 13 years, the Jenks program has been refined several times, and implementing it “has been a huge learning curve,” she said.
“But the financial results of the program are well worth the effort,” McKay said, noting district officials strongly believe in being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Dallas-based Energy Education consulting firm focuses on more than turning off lights and computers but on changing organizational behavior, said Mike Gullatt, senior vice president of corporate communications.
“Our objective is to help our clients reduce their energy consumption on average by 20 to 30 percent,” he said.
Energy Education implements a “budget-positive” energy reduction program, meaning the district spends no extra money and pays its fees to Energy Education from its energy savings, Gullatt said.
Fees come from savings, and clients are guaranteed to save much more than the cost of the program.
Gullatt said fees are different for each client but that they average 14 percent over a 10-year period.
“That means every dollar invested by a client returns $7.14 to the district,” he said.
Many clients are no longer in contract with the firm, yet Energy Education continues to provide services free of charge in perpetuity, Gullatt said.
“We really believe that every dollar saved is a dollar back into the classroom,” he said. “We’d much rather them put the money toward education, rather than paying utility bills.”
Gullatt said individual school districts typically don’t have the expertise or dedicated personnel to realize such savings.
Most districts that use do-it-yourself programs reduce energy consumption by only 7 percent at best, according to Energy Star, a joint initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Energy Department.
Earlier this year, Energy Education received the prestigious Energy Star Award for Sustained Excellence for the third consecutive year.
“I travel across the country and whether it’s Florida, the state of Washington or California, there isn’t a district in this country that isn’t under financial stress right now,” Gullat said.
“While our program doesn’t solve all the pains, it definitely retains significant dollars for them to use in retaining staff, student programs and those kind of things most important to their mission,” he said.
The EPA estimates the country’s 17,450 public school districts spend more than $6 billion on energy, with as much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy used inefficiently or unnecessarily.
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