Energy Efficiency Standards Save Texas Schools Money

Alder Creek Middle School in Truckee California: A Demonstration project for Collaborative for High Performance Schools

On March 16 the Texas House Energy Resources Committee heard testimony on HB 775 from Rep. Rafael Anchia.  HB 775 would further enable school districts to reduce energy and water consumption, which saves money and improves the air quality of Texas schools.  As public schools are facing grim budget decisions saving money on energy means more teachers in classrooms and a better education for Texas children.

Investing in energy efficiency measures saves school districts and taxpayers money in the long run because energy efficiency lowers electricity bills.  Stated differently, failing to improve efficiency means school districts are wasting energy and needlessly straining tight budgets.  Also, energy efficiency is one of the few measures that will reduce air pollution at the same time that it saves money.  Many energy efficiency measures will require some upfront costs.  However, school districts have several options for offsetting or avoiding those costs all together, including Texas LoanSTAR, performance contracts, and utility incentive programs. (You can read further explanations of these options/programs in my full testimony to the committee)

Specific School District Examples

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an energy-efficient school district with 4,000 students could save as much as $160,000 a year in energy costs, with savings reaching $1.6 million over ten years.  Texas schools that have initiated energy conservation programs have already begun to realize savings with some relatively easy investments.  The table below shows Texas school districts that have received funds from the LoanSTAR program for energy efficient measures and the estimated costs and savings. 

School DistrictEnergy Conservation Measures (ECM) Total Estimated ECM costsAnnual Energy Cost SavingsPayback (years)
ArlingtonReplace lighting, correct power factor, upgrade mechanical system$4,655,086$649, 8807.2
HollidayReplace lighting and HVAC systems$188,169$20,1209.4
Red OakReplace lighting, install occupancy sensors and EMS, institute payment and performance bonds$2,214,305$311,8877.1

Also, in 2006, a comprehensive audit was conducted of the 32 most inefficient campuses in the Houston ISD.  The finding were that HISD’s average high school consumption per square foot of building space was 13 percent higher than the regional average, and the average cost per square foot was 43 percent higher than the regional average.  The audit also concluded that “significant decreases in annual energy costs, as well as major maintenance cost reductions, can be achieved” through the audit’s recommendations.  Based on the 32 campuses alone, the audit estimated that a 20 percent cost savings throughout HISD is highly probable, with an estimated reduction in annual energy costs of $15 million.

Statewide Potential Savings

In 2010, the Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M University modeled energy savings and payback periods for the application of 18 cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects applied to new and existing buildings in school districts throughout the state. The results showed good paybacks and significant energy savings. For example, the table below shows one measure and potential savings if it is implemented in Dallas County.

Daylighting Control (implementing continuous daylighting control) in Dallas County 

Electricity kWh savedTotal energy savings %$/yearSimple estimated payback (years)

This table represents one measure in one county. HB 775 would help school districts realize savings far beyond this impressive potential saving.

Although some energy efficiency upgrades may cost money upfront, school districts enjoy cost savings in the medium to long term.   There are several financing mechanisms available to enable school districts to attain higher levels of energy efficiency, including some that require no up front outlays by school districts.  In addition, some school districts that have adopted a 5% per year efficiency goal found unexpected benefits as soon as they started tracking energy use.  This first vital step of measurement led to discovery of easy, sometimes inexpensive or free ways to improve their energy conservation.  School districts and taxpayers will benefit from lower energy bills by developing energy conservation plans and seeking cost effective measures that can result in significant economic returns on investment in a relatively short period of time or, in some cases, at no cost to the school district.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Great article. I’m surprised to see the payback for the projects that were funded to be so high. There are definite opportunities for demand reduction in almost every school district in our country. The perpetual lack of funding for school districts makes it very difficult to get any projects done and we’ve seen issues with the budgeting cycle that have prevented school districts from being able to take advantage of performance contracting opportunities.

    I am curious to know if there is a source for regional energy demand per square foot by industry. This would make a great tool to add to our arsenal when talking about these types of projects with potential customers. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.