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District saving $200,000 on energy

Over the last two years, the Medford School District reduced its summer electric bill by $37,672 by simply asking staff to unplug TVs, DVD players, computers, chargers and other equipment in their classrooms before leaving for the summer.

The summer shutdown is one of the "low-cost and no-cost projects" initiated by Lief Hochendoner, the district’s resource conservation/project specialist, to conserve energy and save money that could be put to better use in the classroom.

“Most of the equipment out there has standby power,” Hochendoner said. “Even phone chargers, if left plugged in, are drawing power. In our case, all those little things added up to a whole lot.”

Shortly after being hired in 2013, Hochendoner formed the district’s Resource Conservation Program, which according to a report released by the district is now saving $200,000 annually in electric, natural gas, water and waste costs.

In January 2015, the school district became the first in the state to enroll in the Energy Trust of Oregon’s Commercial Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program.

“When (Energy Trust) approached us with the program, it fit in well with what we were trying to accomplish,” Hochendoner said. “And being that there was no cost other than our time to attend meetings and training workshops, it made a lot of sense for us to participate in the program.”

As part of the program, Energy Trust tracked energy use at all 19 district buildings, taking into account weather patterns and occupancy; trained facilities teams on how to use the data to make operational and behavioral improvements; and encouraged the district to update its conservation and sustainability policy to include best practices, said Susan Jowaiszas, Energy Trust’s senior marketing manager.

“It’s about how you run your buildings for maximum efficiency and figuring out where waste is occurring so you can take steps to remedy that,” she said.

Energy Trust also paid the district an incentive based on how much energy it saved. In its first year, the district reduced its kilowatt-hour consumption by nearly 10 percent, or one million kilowatt-hours. As a result, the district not only saved $70,000 in utility costs, but also earned $22,000 in incentives.

One million kilowatt-hours, Jowaiszas explained, is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power 775 homes for a year, or 4,161 tons of carbon dioxide.

While the districtwide summer shutdown initiative accounted for about a third of that energy savings, the rest was accomplished through low-cost and no-cost projects, including ensuring doors and windows remain closed while the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units are on, and scheduling the HVAC units around when the buildings are occupied.

The district also disconnected 271 fluorescent hallway lights in Central Medford High School and replaced 1,103 fluorescent light fixtures with brighter, longer-lasting and more efficient LED lights.

The lighting upgrade, which is estimated to save the district between $20,000 and $30,000 annually, cost the district nearly $155,000. However, the bulk of the expense was covered by a $112,542 Oregon Department of Energy Cool Schools grant and an additional $38,700 in incentives from the Energy Trust, Hochendoner said.

“So basically, while the project cost $150,000, the out-of-pocket cost for the district was only about $2,000, and it’s bringing almost $20,000 back to the district every year in savings,” said Ron Havniear, the district’s support services and facilities manager.

Other conservation projects included insulating the floor of Washington Elementary School for an annual savings of $3,000, repairing water leaks districtwide for an annual savings of $29,000, reducing the frequency of waste pickups at some sites for an annual savings of $4,500, and replacing 18 windows at McLoughlin Middle School to help maintain the temperature in the building. (The savings for the latter project has not been calculated.)

The district also has plans to upgrade lighting at several other facilities, replace two chillers, fine tune equipment so it runs more efficiently and install a solar array at Ruch Community School, according to district spokeswoman Natalie Hurd.

"All these projects save us money that we can put directly back into the classrooms," Hurd said.

While many of the conservation projects were identified prior to the district enrolling in the SEM program, the program provided additional data, as well as the tools to further the district's efforts, Havniear said.

Energy Trust filmed a case study video to showcase Medford’s successful implementation of the SEM program. It will be available at the end of April on the organization and school district's websites.

—Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.