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Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Energy proposal eyed as potential cost-cutter

April 10, 2002

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The Lawrence school district could save $3.1 million in the next seven years with a new approach to energy management in school buildings.

Edward Froehner, vice president of Energy Education of Wichita Falls, Tex., said Tuesday that his company guaranteed the district would recover its full investment in the energy program. If savings fall short, the company will write a check to the district for the difference.

"You can't lose money," he said. "In 80 percent of cases, we estimate (savings) low and deliver high."

The district's budget committee unanimously voted to ask the school board to consider signing a $484,000, four-year contract with Energy Education.

Supt. Randy Weseman said he was convinced the district needed to get a better grip on rising energy costs.

"It's common sense," he said. "If we could save just a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, I definitely want to do that. We need the money."

Froehner said the 18-year-old company had assisted 11 other Kansas public school districts. Savings in seven districts listed on a promotional chart ranged from $1.9 million in the Topeka district in five years to $16.6 million in Wichita schools in eight years.

In Lawrence's case, Froehner estimated total energy savings of $4 million in seven years and total investment by the district of $910,000 during that period. Net savings would be $3.1 million.

"This is a lot more gentle and I think reasonable way of saving money than what we've been through," Weseman said.

He was referring to the school board's recent adoption of nearly $5 million in budget cuts and fee increases in the 2002-2003 budget.

Under the company's program, Energy Education analysts would outline hundreds of opportunities through which the district could make more efficient use of lighting, heating and air conditioning.

The district would hire an "energy educator," most likely a former teacher, to receive extensive, ongoing training from Energy Education. He or she would be responsible for passing along that energy ethic to staff, teachers and students.

The energy educator's salary would be in addition to Energy Education's $121,000 annual fee.

Froehner promised there would be no need for students to wear gloves in the class during winter or use flashlights to see textbooks.

"We attack the noninstructional parts of the day," he said.

The program doesn't depend on a high-pressure approach likely to alienate district employees, Froehner said.

"It's a very, very positive program from day one. It's working smarter, not harder," he said.

Many of the savings opportunities seem trivial but would add up. He suggested saving $6 a year by removing the light bulb from the front sign of a soft drink machine.

Other ideas: turn off computers when not in use, flip off lights when leaving a room, adjust thermostats at night.

A sophisticated $5,000 computer software program would monitor the energy consumption of all district buildings. The district currently has no way to accurately track those costs, said Kathy Johnson, the district director of finance.

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