By Heather Mullinix
Cumberland County schools have saved $10,725 in energy costs since beginning an energy efficiency project in 2011.
However, the first full year of energy use found the schools saved less than the amount guaranteed by TRANE as part of a performance contract.
Chuck Burnett, with TRANE, said, "On the front end of contracts, there are sometimes mitigating factors that influence energy use at certain schools."
The first full year of energy efficiency program implementations garnered savings of $244,430. However, that was $18,316 less than the guaranteed savings of $262,746. Bennett explained the first year is combined with the implementation year savings, $29,041, resulting in a total savings of $338,471 in energy costs.
In future years, each year's energy savings will stand on its own and, should the school system not save the guaranteed amount, TRANE would write a check for the difference.
TRANE has analyzed data on energy use at each school to determine where greater efficiency can be found. One way that energy costs have been held down is by changing when schools use energy. An electric bill has two parts, a cost for actual consumption and a charge for kilowatt demand.
Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle said, "We did a good job of conserving energy. It's the time that we were using the energy that got us into trouble. When we all come to school at 6 a.m. and start pulling that energy to heat up the buildings, the electric company charges us more for that energy than energy pulled at 10 a.m."
The centralized HVAC controls allowed the school system to stagger when heating systems would come online during cold winter months, starting to slowly heat the building at 3 a.m., for example, rather than waiting until 6 a.m.
"It blew me away we can save money by starting the heating at 3 a.m.," VanWinkle said.
Along with those adjustments, the area also experienced several weeks of record high temperatures in August, just weeks before the year-end for the energy program on Sept. 30.
"A 105-degree August didn't help us a ton for cooling loads," Burnett said. "The last time I had the privilege of speaking to the board, we were several thousand dollars ahead of the guarantee, but August being so close to September, it took those savings in a direction we didn't foresee for year one."
The $5 million program included a new heating system at Cumberland County High School, new windows at Pine View and Homestead Elementary Schools, system-wide changes to lighting and centralized HVAC controls, power misers for vending machines and controls on water use. It was financed through future energy savings and low-interest loans and grants as well as through $484,000 from Cumberland County government that the school system is to repay the debt service fund at the conclusion of the 12-year financing period.
VanWinkle noted the school system had saved 12 percent across all utility use since the program was completed.
"That's what this is really about," she said.
Burnett added, "We've got a successful program going here. I can't thank the maintenance staff enough for being an active participant."
In other business, the board reviewed financial statements of internal school funds. VanWinkle noted there were no major findings in the report, though some errors were identified and corrected.