District seeing significant reduction in energy usage since 2002

Published 6:24 am Thursday, September 28, 2023

Through the employee-based energy conservation program, the Albert Lea school district has saved about $6.58 million since the 2002-’03 school year, the district’s energy manager said Monday. The goal of the program, started by Energy Education out of Texas, was changing employee behaviors in the hopes of saving energy.

“It was a new approach, it’s an expensive program that the school district got into,” Steve Lund said. “But it was a guarantee that you would save that money back at no cost to the district.”

Originally started as a way to add air conditioning to a school at no additional cost, they began cutting back on energy use.

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In fact, Lund described his job as working with teachers and showing them ways to reduce energy consumption.

“I make recommendations, it’s up to the administration, it’s up to the staff, as to whether they’re going to follow the recommendations or not.”

In the 2002-’03 school year, before the start of the program, the district spent over $665,000 in energy. This year, the district spent over $910,000. And while that number is higher, it was a 37.35% savings.

The goal of the program was not to make the students uncomfortable or having teachers work in the dark, it was using the time when students weren’t in school to reduce expenditures.

“A custodian comes in at 6 a.m.,” he said. “We don’t want them turning on all the lights in the building because really we don’t have that many teachers showing up at 6 a.m. that warrant turning on all the lights.”

Instead, he’ll encourage teachers already there to turn on enough lights to ensure safe passage through the school. He also said all lights should be on when all teachers are there and just before students were set to arrive.

This past year, the district saved $588,954, which he described as a nebulous number, noting that when costs increased so did savings.

Electricity costs rose 7.3% compared to last year. However, the district used about 6.37 million kilowatt-hours in the 2002-’03 year. In the 2022-’23 year, the district used about 4.47 million KWH. Demand was also down between the two years, from 21,065 in 2002-’03 to 19,081 last year. However total cost increased from $436,485 in 2002-’03 to $623,561.

“Electricity is not getting cheap any more,” he said.

The cost of natural gas increased 11.7% from the 2022-’23 year compared to the 2021-’22 year. And while the district is using less therms now compared to the 2003-’04 school years (389,889 therms then and 264,641 in 2022-’23), unit cost increased by $.60 per unit.

In terms of water and sewer, cost has risen 1.2% over the past year, and the use of water and sewer has remained roughly the same when comparing the 2002-’03 and 2022-’23 school years.

“We’re not saving money on water and sewer,” he said.

In a building cost comparison done, every building except Southwest Middle School scored above 75, which qualifies as an energy star building. Lund was, however, impressed with Southwest’s score, considering the building factors in with Sibley.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions energy reduction impact, he said the district’s energy cost savings was equivalent to 884,168 tree seedlings grown for 10 years or 7,148 passenger cars removed from the road for one year.

“We have very good cooperation, especially from our custodians and our staff,” Lund said.

In other action, the board:

  • Agreed to participate in the tax abatement housing assistance program by agreeing to abate its share of the increased real estate taxes resulting from tax abatement housing assistance.
  • Approved Policy 516.5, which authorizes school administration to obtain and possess opioid overdose reversal medication such as Naloxone. 
  • Authorized Superintendent Ron Wagner to serve as the local education agency representative, and Darci Rasmussen as deputy board clerk.

The board hired Allie Halverson, Kalia Bergstad, Kyle Milliron, Shelly DeVries, Shelby Fjelbrosten, Raymond Fuentez, Dale Johnson, Ra Yu Ri, Alicia Hartfield, Abigail Olson and Kaley Grisim for a number of positions. They agreed to leaves of absence for Carrie Troe, Ashley Benson, Linda Willaby, Alicia Hartfield, Kortni Pizel, Yessica Cabrera Svendsen, Yasmin Hansen, Tiffany Chrz, Niccole Hillman and Alicia Hartfield. The board also agreed to the resignation/retirement/termination of Brenda Reeder, Russel Behrends, Krystal Pauslon, Rachel Hagen, Jody Seeger, Andrea Chavez and Lyndsey Egge.