How 2 Oregon districts are amping up energy efficiency

Lighting, heating and ventilation upgrades projects saved Oregon schools $7.4 million in 2019
By: | November 6, 2020
Replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs is a key way many schools are becoming more energy efficient.Replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs is a key way many schools are becoming more energy efficient.

Energy efficiency may not make as big a splash as a roof full of solar panels, but changing a school’s lights bulbs and other measures can be a low-cost way to generate significant savings.

On the West Coast, for example, the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon have provided $19 million in funding to schools for energy efficiency projects, says Susan Jowaiszas, the agency’s marketing lead for energy programs.

Lighting, heating, ventilation, insulation and other projects backed the Energy Trust in 2019 saved schools $7.4 million, Jowaiszas says.

With many schools closed during COVID this year, districts have saved money on these projects because contractors can make the upgrades during regular schools, rather than at nights or on weekends, Jowaiszas adds.

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“Energy efficiency delivers saving every single day,” Jowaiszas says. “They’re reducing energy needs over time, and also making schools more economically sustainable.”

Districts are using voter-approved bonds or general operating budgets to fund these sustainability projects.

The administrators in the former cases generally have more to spend, adds Christina Skellenger, the Energy Trust’s program representative who works with schools.

Regardless of the funding source, a lower-cost way to make some significant improvements is to replace fluorescent light bulbs with LEDs. Another area that’s usually ripe for upgrades is the kitchen equipment in the cafeteria.

A third is installing insulation when replacing roofs in older buildings.

“We see a surprising amount of buildings that don’t have wall or roof insulation,” Skellenger says.

Finally, there’s a process called “retro-commissioning.” Rather than completely replacing a boiler, for instance, a retro-commissioning project would install technology that allows maintenance staff to have more control over when heating and cooling systems operate, Skellenger says.

Retro-commissioning can control when systems turn and off, and how hot or cold they make a building.

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On the other hand, when a district does need to replace a boiler, administrators can work with organizations like the Energy Trust to choose the most energy-efficient product.

The organization will also train maintenance staff on how to assess facilities to determine where energy improvements can be made, Jowaiszas says.

“Raising the energy IQ of a building can bring along some significant savings,” she says.

Click on the photos below to read the stories of two districts that made energy efficiency improvements with the help of the Energy Trust of Oregon: