Consultant: schools could save millions by changing energy habits

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The local school corporation could save 20 percent to 30 percent on its annual utility bills by implementing recommendations made by a company that deals exclusively with energy-saving tactics.

Glen Gaines, area representative for the Texas-based company Energy Education, explained to Huntington County Community School Corporation Board members Monday night that the company works primarily with public school corporations around the United States.

"We specifically have 957 school corporation clients in 48 states," Gaines said. "There are over 30 here in Indiana." The company works in the area of utility conservation, but not in the typical areas that most school corporations pursue to decrease consumption. "We do not install or sell equipment or controls - there is no capital outlay involved at all."

Since its start-up in 1986, Energy Education has saved more than 900 clients across the nation $1.5 billion through its customized, people-driven energy conservation programs, Gaines says. It's the people side of energy consumption, rather than the mechanics or equipment, on which Energy Education focuses its efforts.

"What is it that people can do in their workspace without sacrificing comfort, without adding a lot of time to their workday, to make them as efficient as possible no matter how large or small their contribution can be," Gaines says.

"When you literally have hundreds of people who can make a contribution in a school corporation and everyone is contributing and pointing the same direction, you have a phenomenal opportunity to decrease consumption."

The bottom line of the program, he added, "is to say that we are a company that helps school corporations take a formerly fixed utility expense dollar and turn it into a discretionary dollar that can be invested in other things that are more important to you."

Gaines - who had been in contact with David McKee, assistant superintendent for business and classified staff for HCCSC - provided school board members with a proposal that, among other things, indicated the corporation could save approximately $4.7 million in utility costs over a 10-year period - money, he said, that could be redirected into other areas of opportunity. Clients work with Energy Education on a 48-month contract, after which time they can continue their affiliation "free of charge," Gaines noted.

Overall, school corporations in Indiana have saved more than $103 million since implementing practices recommended by Energy Education, Gaines said.

Of that amount, Perry Township schools saved the most money - $15.6 million, a 41 percent savings over the 57 months (13+ years) involved in the program - while Penn-Harris-Madison schools saved the least - $825,000 over the 24 months (two years) involved. Other Indiana school corporations realized savings somewhere in between.

School corporations in northeast Indiana that are utilizing the program, number of months involved, and their cost savings include: Whitley County Consolidated, 72 months, $2.4 million; Southwest Allen County, 86 months, $3.6 million; DeKalb County, 57 months, $3.1 million; and Logansport Community, 44 months, $1.6 million.

It's important to note that each school corporation takes care of assembling and maintaining its own records, Gaines noted.

"Our clients feel that they have accurate records," he said. "All of the statistics are kept by the school corporations and sent to Energy Education, rather than the other way around."

The company uses over 1,200 evaluation areas to identify hundreds, possibly thousands, of recommendations as to how a corporation can reduce energy consumption.

Recommendations are phased in gradually over a four-year period, Gaines said, adding that the recommendations themselves do not provide cost savings.

"What we do for our clients is to take those recommendations and put them into a four-step process to allow them to realize - and in your case we believe over $4.7 million in net savings," he said.

The four-step process includes assessment and planning, coordination and communication, leadership and focus and measurement and verification. The first thing the company does is bring in some of its experts - people from Energy Education who come in to implement the program. They include mechanical engineers, irrigation specialists, former utility company executives, former school district personnel and electrical engineers, among others.

"We rotate all of our experts nationally every week and every month and every year, so they work with all of our school corporation clients," Gaines said. "They will begin to do the assessment and planning stage."

Every facility in the district will have its own unique plan and every member of the staff will be involved in its implementation.

"You can't go in with a one-size-fits-all plan and make an effective implementation to those different buildings," Gaines said. "We're going to customize each plan to be unique for each one of your schools and each one of your staffs."

One person from the district would act as a liaison between the corporation and Energy Education - an energy education specialist. While some large school districts might need several of these full-time specialists, a corporation the size of HCCSC will only need one person, Gaines noted.

"It is, almost 100 percent of the time, someone who is a current employee or recent retiree of the school corporation - someone who has an affiliation with your school corporation and your culture, someone who will know the people they would be working with and educating in this process," Gaines said. "We take a great deal of pride and effort in helping our clients select a successful energy education specialist in this process."

That person should be someone who is a good communicator, strong motivator and strong instructor, and Energy Education provides nearly all of that person's training.
During the first four months of the program - also know as Fast Track - the company will help the corporation select and train its energy education specialist. The corporation will not incur any expenses at that time, Gaines noted.

"Our average client nationally has been cash-flow positive on a monthly stand-alone basis within the first three to four months of the program with the energy education being involved," he said. "By the time you reach the fifth month, almost all of our clients are stand-alone, in that month, cash flow positive to any expenditures they'll receive."

Record keeping for the program is done using third-party software and the corporation's specialist would send Energy Education a report every month.

"You keep all the records for the program," Gaines said. "For us, that's an arm's-length transaction - we can't be accused of changing the numbers to make them look better."

Energy Education also guarantees that its clients won't expend any money by hiring the firm.

"In each of the four years of our contract, we give you an annual guarantee that says at the end of each 12-month period, you total up your records of savings and compare them to your records of expense," Gaines stated. "If for any reason your expenses are greater than your savings in that 12-month period, we'll write you a check for the difference."

In its 23 years in business serving 950 corporations, Energy Education has written out only seven checks, Gaines said.

"All seven of those checks were written in the first year of an implementation that started slower than we'd forecast," he added. "All seven of those school corporations, by the second year, were at or ahead of projection."

HCCSC's school board members will continue to look into the possibility of implementing the program locally by going over the data provided and talking to officials from corporations already using it.