Washington School District is initiating an incentive program this fall to encourage schools to save on utility costs. Schools that reduce consumption over this year's use will receive 80 percent of the savings for other purposes.

Granite District is adding schools to an automated, centrally controlled system as quickly as possible to cut energy consumption. This year, 12 schools will be retrofitted for the computerized system, for a total of approximately 25 percent of the Granite schools. The district estimates savings of about $500,000 to $1 million on its $7 million energy budget. As the system goes districtwide, the savings will grow.Davis District has had a central control system for several years and has saved millions of dollars. The system monitors individual buildings and automatically reduces consumption during peak hours when costs are higher.

These are activities that bring smiles to the face of Jerry H. Zenger of the University of Utah's Engineering Experimental Station.

The station has cooperated with other state agencies for several years to promote the wise use of energy in state buildings, including schools. Conservative use has the potential to save millions of dollars that could be converted to more productive education uses, Zenger said.

In 1989-90, Utah's schools shared a total energy bill of $32.7 million. With even minimal effort, that total could be cut by 20 percent or $6.5 million, Zenger said. Aggressive control of energy consumption has the potential for much greater savings.

That public buildings can conserve energy was demonstrated during a 1980s Middle East crisis that sent oil prices soaring. Under duress, schools instituted energy-saving measures. But with the end of the crisis, costs have crept up again, Zenger said. Even the recent Persian Gulf war did not have a significant impact, as oil prices stayed relatively stable.

Because schools are in use only five days a week and for only part of each day, it is important that energy use be minimized when buildings are empty.

"Leaky buildings cost a lot for heating or cooling air that doesn't do any good," Zenger said.

He encourages Utah school districts to consider actions taken by school districts across the country to address the problem. In Philadelphia, for instance, cutting energy consumption and returning part of the savings to the schools helped the school district solve desperate financial problems. The district had reneged on a promised salary increase and faced bankruptcy. In three years, the district saved $12 million in a really austere program. The savings now are about $6 million a year.

Several large districts around the country have made similar efforts pay off, shifting money from energy budgets to instruction.

The availability of federal and state grants has encouraged many districts to work on the problem, said Ross Wentworth, Granite facilities director.

In most areas of Utah, evaporative coolers are as effective as central air conditioning, and less expensive, said Zenger. Generally, only two weeks of the year are too hot for the coolers to handle, state energy experts say. With more schools going to year-round schedules, energy costs for cooling are becoming greater than heating costs in some districts.


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Mismanagement of utilities may occur because:

- Building occupants and operators, including principals and custodial personnel, are not aware of utility costs since they are not paid at the building level.

- Operators are often poorly trained or not trained at all. Some buildings lack operating manuals.

- Inadequate maintenance budgets force corrective rather than preventive maintenance.

- Schools have no incentive to save on energy costs. They face no penalties if they are wasteful.

- Bidding regulations often require that a district buy the cheapest equipment, rather than the best and most energy-efficient. Purchase agents can avoid the problem by writing performance specifications that rule out low-caliber equipment.