More spending than saving on energy plan

Mecklenburg County public schools spent nearly $150,000 in the past year to save $146,000 in energy costs, according to a report presented to the School Board Monday night.

Robert Tucker, who is paid $19,000 per year to serve as energy manager for Mecklenburg County schools, shared the steps he and consultant Energy Education, Inc. have taken over the past year to reduce energy costs incurred by the school district. Energy Education, Inc. (EEI) has a four- year contract with Mecklenburg County to “build and provide a customized energy conservation program that is focused on organization and behavioral change.” EEI is being paid $9,500 per month or $114,000 per year for their services and an additional $6,650 per year for software.

According to the contract with EEI, the school district must also pay to “train [Tucker] with the skills essential for Program Implementation.” This includes sending Tucker to three “National Training Conferences” each year. He also has full-time access to a car paid for by the school district.

So far, Tucker’s training has allowed him to develop a three-point program for conserving energy: adjusting temperatures for rooms not in use, turning off computers when not in use and turning off lights when leaving a room. Since October, when he returned from several weeks of training in Texas — paid for by the school system — Tucker said he has been “re-educating” the teachers and staff at each school about this new energy conservation program.

Tucker monitors monthly energy usage. He claimed the program is a success because in the months of December, March, July, and August, the schools decreased their energy usage by over 20 percent in each of those months. He also conceded, after questioning by trustee Glenn Edwards, that these months coincide with extended school vacations or holidays — winter break, spring break, and summer recess.

Speaking on behalf of EEI, its Vice President of Operations, Thomas Diliberti, said, “It takes a few months for people to get acclimated to the new program. But you will continue to see reductions in energy usage throughout the life of the program.” He added that in each month since December, the school has reduced the amount of gas, electric and propane it uses by between 8.7 percent and 35.6 percent.

Tucker added that his role in reducing energy costs, in part, involves driving to each school building in the evenings after the janitorial staff has completed their work and assuring the lights are turned off.

Edwards told Tucker, “You can stay home and I can accomplish the same goal.” He then raised two concerns about the program: cost, and redundancy.

If the schools are trying to reduce costs by turning out lights, Edwards said can assure that result for a few dollars. “For $70 a switch or $2,800 I can install motion detectors in every hallway and room in Clarksville Elementary School. If there is no movement in the room for, say 5 minutes, the lights will automatically shut off.”

He added, “We currently have a computer program controlled by our Director of Maintenance [Wade Wilson] that allows him to adjust the heat or air conditioning in every building in the district from his computer. He doesn’t even have to leave his office.”

Dilberti agreed that computer programs, similar to the one Wilson has access to, are effective, but claimed that too often they are under-utilized due to lack of staff training. This prompted Edwards to ask what it might cost to fully train Wilson and the maintenance department on the computer program.

Edwards also wondered, aloud, how much of the schools’ energy savings were actually attributed to “mother nature or God, after all we had a mild winter last year.” Dilberti claimed EEI’s computer model accounts for the “mother nature factor,” using historical data.

Superintendent James Thornton said he was confident the program was saving the school system money, particularly “when you compare the savings over an entire school year, against the costs.”

Before ending their presentation, Edwards told Dilberti and Tucker he wanted to see all documents they looked at before preparing their report. He also expected them to return next month for a more complete discussion of the program.

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