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Hawkins County schools cutting costs one light switch, one water leak at a time

August 4th, 2013 7:55 pm by Jeff Bobo

Hawkins County schools cutting costs one light switch, one water leak at a time

Hawkins County Schools energy specialist George Larkins points out for the Board of Education Thursday utility energy savings that have taken place over the past year. (photo by Jeff Bobo)

(Editors Note: Photos from the power point presentation George Larks gave the Hawkins County BOE Thursday are below this article.)

ROGERSVILLE — Individually they might seem like small things, but the savings from switching off a light or a computer or adjusting the thermostat at the end of the day is already adding up to big bucks for the Hawkins County School System.

Last year the school system launched an energy conservation program as part of the Energy Star initiative to reduce carbon emissions and improve financial performance. 

The program included contracting with conservation adviser Synergistic last September  and hiring former Volunteer High School assistant principal George Larkins as an energy specialist in October.

On Thursday,  Larkins presented the Hawkins County Board of Education with a report on the program’s performance as of the end of May, which includes a total of $360,588 in savings. 

In the first four years,  Synergistic will receive $200,000 per year from those savings as a consulting fee. After that,  the entire savings will revert back into the school system’s general fund balance. 

Larkins told the BOE that conserving energy at the school level involved cooperation from all employees from the principals down to the custodians and part-time staff. He said everyone has responded  but the teachers have the greatest impact.

“It’s been incredible the way the teachers have been able to jump on board,” Larkins said. “They give me a hard time about it and call me lots of names, but they still do a really good job and are really becoming conscientious about what’s going on in their classroom. What we’re trying to do is take as much off of the teachers, the principals, all the staff, and try to get this as automated as we can to change the entire culture. Sometimes they forget to turn computers off or forget to turn lights off, and I know people are working hard to catch things that are left on accidentally.”

To generate savings numbers,  the first thing Larkins did was establish a baseline year with energy numbers between September of 2011-12.

But, the Hawkins County program didn’t officially begin until Jan. 1 of this year.

Overall, between January and the end of May of this year,  the school system saved 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 4.4 million cubic feet of natural gas  and three million gallons of water  —  based on projected usage. 

That projected usage uses the baseline figures, but also takes into account that over the past year the school system  added a tremendous utility load to the system,  including six new classrooms, 312 promethean boards, 312 projectors, 739 computers and 66 HVAC units.

The biggest energy cuts were in water and sewer usage, which Larkins attributed mainly to finding leaks. For the baseline year between January and the end of May,  Hawkins County schools used 3.2 million gallons of water. The usage for that same time period this past year was projected to be 3.03 million gallons, but the actual usage was 2.7 million gallons.

Overall, from January through the end of May this past year,  Hawkins schools cut expenses $246,997 from the same time period the year before  —   a reduction of 25 percent.

Another $86,756 was saved from September of 2012 through the end of December. Although Larkins was training during that time period, the schools had already launched energy savings programs.

Larkins also found a special one-time savings of $26,835 from state sales tax that the school system wasn’t supposed to be paying. Among those savings was a $10,000 rebate from the state.

Larkins said the overall $360,588 in savings is even more impressive when considering that the cost of every utility increased last year  —   electricity went up 9.5 percent, natural gas  went up 5.4 percent, and water  went up 13.5 percent.

“Even in September when the program was started people started paying attention and started to find things that they could do,”  Larkins said. “Water leaks. Different things like that. By the end of October we were just getting comfortable with adjusting thermostats. And we can see how (savings) just starts to accumulate in December, and then our performance contract started in January.”

Larkins added, “This sort of gives you a picture of how incredible it’s been to save, even though we’ve added (to the load) and we’re dealing with price increases. And I suspect that those will continue to rise.”

Board member Debbie Shedden said she would like to see the board work toward giving schools incentives to save energy by offering them financial incentives to help offset their own expenses.

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