Perhaps your school district has been preoccupied lately with pressing matters such as standardized testing or how to make up snow days. But this is the time of year when local school boards consider the budget for next year. What better time to think about energy efficiency practices, and how they could save the district money.

Here are a few facts to ponder:

  • Our nation’s 17,450 K-12 school districts spend more than $6 billion on energy annually. That is more than is spent on computers and textbooks combined.
  • Energy costs are second only to salary and benefit costs in the average school budget.
  • As much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily.

Schools might consider New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program, an initiative of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, for easy, actionable plans to use energy more efficiently. There are several ways the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities’ administered programs – New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program and the Energy Savings Improvement Program – can help your school district free up more resources by spending less on energy.

Energy Savings

A good starting point for some schools in their move to boost energy efficiency is to investigate the Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP). This New Jersey Board of Public Utilities administered program is separate and distinct from New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program. The ESIP program allows government agencies to leverage the future value of energy savings to pay for the upfront project costs. This financing alternative allows schools to enter into contracts for up to 15 years to finance energy upgrades in a manner that ensures that annual payments are lower than the savings projected from the energy conservation measures.

Free Local Government Energy Audit (LGEA) School districts throughout the state are taking advantage of the free energy audit. Participating schools select from a list of pre-qualified firms to perform the energy audit. New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program picks up 100 percent of the cost of your audit, so there is no fee to your school district. The LGEA is also the first step required for those interested in pursuing an ESIP.

When the audit has been completed, the district will have a list of recommended, cost-effective energy efficiency measures and facility upgrades. This is a customized outline for reducing operating expenses. Most of the measures will be eligible for financial incentives available through one of the following programs.

Pay for Performance

Pay for Performance is a comprehensive energy efficiency program that provides incentives towards whole-building energy improvements for schools with a peak demand in excess of 100 kW. It also includes new school construction projects that are 50,000 square feet in size or more. The goal of the initiative is to achieve a 15 percent or greater energy reduction upon completion of the project.

Pay for Performance financial incentives can cover up to 50 percent of total project costs with a maximum incentive of $2 million. The incentives are awarded upon the satisfactory completion of three program milestones: an energy reduction plan prepared by an approved partner, installation of recommended measures, and a post-construction benchmarking report.

New Jersey SmartStart Buildings

Whether your district is building a new school from the ground up, or upgrading an existing facility, it’s easy to make smart, energy-efficient equipment choices with support from New Jersey SmartStart Buildings Program. There are a wide array of improvement options and incentives available for projects.

New Construction and Additions

Critical factors affecting a school’s long-term energy use include building form and configuration, lighting, HVAC, and other systems. Integrating multiple energy-efficient options into a project design can result in savings that are much greater than those achieved by stand-alone efficiency measures. The easiest, most cost-effective way to achieve this benefit is to consider and select efficient alternatives during the design phase.

Renovations and Remodeling

School renovation projects typically entail a complete building overhaul, with major modifications to the building as well as replacement of HVAC and lighting systems. Opportunities for equipment selection and design enhancements are similar to those for new construction projects and, likewise, are most effective when incorporated into the design phase.

Remodeling may be as simple as a change in lighting systems, or as complex as an entirely new configuration of internal space with updated mechanical or electrical systems.

Equipment Replacement

Beyond planned renovation or remodeling projects, your school may need to replace equipment due to scheduled maintenance, failing equipment or emergency conditions. Because equipment replacement decisions tend to be made quickly, the New Jersey SmartStart Buildings program is structured to allow a very rapid response.

Financial Incentives

New Jersey’s schools tend to operate within very tight budgets, and there are not always enough funds to invest in new, energy-efficient equipment. Incentives available through the New Jersey SmartStart Buildings program can lower upfront costs. In turn, the new energy-efficient equipment will provide the school with significant long-term savings on its monthly utility costs. School officials should ask about incentives for the following equipment:

  • Electric Chillers
  • Gas Cooling
  • Desiccant Systems
  • Electric Unitary HVAC
  • Ground Source Heat Pumps
  • Gas Heating
  • Variable Frequency Drives
  • Natural Gas Water Heating
  • Premium Motors
  • Premium Efficiency Motors Prescriptive Lighting
  • Lighting Controls

Food Service Equipment

Districts can find energy savings in the school cafeteria as well. Schools can save significant energy and money in their food service operations by choosing energy-efficient cooking equipment, ventilation and refrigeration. Financial incentives are available for the purchase of new commercial food service equipment.

Incentives ranging from $50 to $2,000 will save money when purchasing new equipment. In addition, there will be continuing savings on gas, electricity, and water bills over the lifetime of the equipment. Incentives may be available for the following food service equipment: ovens, steamers, fryers, griddles, cookers, holding cabinets, freezers, ice machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators.

Combined Heat and Power

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are a viable energy efficiency option for some schools and can help reduce energy costs. CHP provides on-site electricity production, as well as thermal energy which can be used for things like space heating, water heating, and space cooling. CHP systems are best suited for schools that have a constant need for both electricity and heat, such as high schools that are open extended hours and weekends and perhaps have a heated pool. This ensures that the systems are well-utilized and will help the school realize the potential energy and cost savings. As an added benefit, pursuing a viable CHP project can also extend the term of an ESIP from 15 to 20 years.

New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program is ready to help districts identify and fund the best energy efficiency opportunities. To get started on your school’s energy efficiency education, or call 866-NJSMART to talk with a representative.

It’s time to take energy efficiency off the back burner for your school.

Gary Finger is business ombudsman at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.