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District saved $2.45 million in energy costs

The Amherst School District has saved $2.45 million in energy costs over the past decade, according to executives from a Dallas-based company that has monitored the district's energy habits during that time.

The district partnered with Energy Education Inc. in 2001 in an attempt to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In the 10 years since, Amherst has reduced its energy consumption by 24.2 percent, Energy Education Inc. executive James Gallogly told the School Board on Tuesday.

Calling his company a consortium of "consultants in organizational behavior," Gallogly said that Energy Education Inc. focuses on three areas to realize savings: purchase energy at a lower price; improve the efficiency of district infrastructure; and decrease usage.

The biggest savings are seen from the third part of that plan, said Brad Bardo, an energy education specialist from Energy Education Inc. who's worked with Amherst from the start of this partnership. In particular, cutting down on after-hours usage -- everything from shutting down computers at night to closely monitoring when temperatures rise enough to stop using boilers for heating -- is key.

"The best way to save money is to not operate equipment at all," he said.

Energy Education Inc. has about 1,100 clients in 48 states, Gallogly said. The company picks from a collection of 1,200 savings sources to customize a plan for a given district. It then gives control to district administrators to pick those suggestions that best fit. The company is only paid out of savings seen by each school district, he said, with free lifetime support offered upon fulfillment of a four-year contract. Energy accounting software is used to monitor the company's success on site.

While Energy Education Inc. does not act during school hours in any way that would disrupt student comfort, the company does take advantage of some physical aspects of having people in the buildings to see additional savings. For example, Gallogly said, putting 28 students in a room increases the room temperature 4 to 5 degrees within seven minutes. Lowering the thermostat by those degrees, in turn, maintains the same temperature while using less fuel.

Amherst has reduced its energy cost from $1.32 per square foot of building space districtwide 10 years ago to $1.13 per square foot now, Bardo said. Further savings could be had if the district were to install electronic controls districtwide, he said, as only about 20 percent of district facilities can be remotely controlled.

While the district would have to weigh the cost of such a capital project, the technology exists for all of the district's infrastructure to be controlled from one computer unit, he said.

Even without such upgrades, though, Amherst has already seen more than its share of savings. That $2.45 million in savings includes about $245,000 in cost avoidance this past school year, Bardo said, with more possible as faculty and staff continue to curb bad energy habits.

"The culture here now from 10 years ago has changed, and it has changed dramatically," Gallogly said.

In other news Tuesday, the board set the final tax rate at $20.36 per $1,000 assessed home value for 2011-12. This number is slightly more than the tax rate of $20.33 per $1,000 that the board estimated would be necessary as part of the district's $47.14 million budget for 2011-12 that was approved in May.

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