San Antonio school districts reap the benefit of energy efficiency

Good ideas are always welcome in the classroom, so it’s no surprise two San Antonio school districts welcomed the bright idea of getting CPS Energy’s help on projects like lighting retrofits to save energy and money.

Northside ISD (NISD) and San Antonio ISD (SAISD) have each received more than $1.5 million in CPS Energy rebates in the last four years, for improving lighting and installing more efficient heating and cooling (HVAC) systems in their schools.

At the same time, they’ve slashed future energy costs — which means more money available for education.

CPS Energy’s commercial rebate program saved school districts much needed money in tight economic times when cutting operating costs has been essential.

The economic downturn made it difficult for SAISD to justify investing in energy efficient lighting, but CPS Energy’s commercial rebates provided enough incentive to jumpstart the upgrades.

“Since all schools were expected to do more with less funding, paying full price for replacing old light fixtures with a new high-efficiency system would normally be out of the question,” said Kamal El Habr, SAISD associate superintendent for facilities.

“However, when CPS Energy offered us a rebate, it made it possible to replace a 38-year-old lighting system at Lanier High. Since then, we have used the rebates to replace lighting at more than 40 other schools.”

The new automated lighting system at Lanier cut energy use in half while being two or three times brighter. When enough natural light is available in hallways and classrooms, sensors turn off fixtures to save energy. Improved lighting also better serves students in study environments and gyms.

With the energy savings, SAISD paid for the cost of the new system in less than a year, and reduced the high school’s monthly energy bill by roughly $5,000.

With the combination of lighting and HVAC upgrades, SAISD has reduced energy demand by more than 3.7 megawatts, saving the district more than $800,000 annually.

Energy efficiency projects at NISD have resulted in an estimated $250,000 a year in savings, allowing the district to use those freed-up resources to hire new teachers, expand educational programs or cover other district expenses.

CPS Energy’s Bob Nelson and Clayton Kruse worked closely with Allen Goldapp, NISD’s energy management coordinator, to assess the energy use of schools and determine the best way to make them more energy efficient.

“We’ve had a great partnership with CPS Energy,” Goldapp said. “They help us stay on track to make sure we get the full benefit of rebates. The partnership has allowed us to reduce energy costs so money can go back to education.”

NISD will see a quick return on investment for lighting retrofits. Payback is estimated at less than three years, and the improved lighting at Los Reyes Elementary reduced energy use by 530 kilowatts for an estimated annual cost savings of $142,000.

NISD and SAISD aren’t the only school districts saving energy and money.

“There’s a lot of momentum in the education sector,” Kruse said. “All public school districts in our service territory are actively engaged with the rebate program. The level of activity varies, but most have been aggressive with their efficiency initiatives.”

Helping large entities like school districts reduce energy demand is part of CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP. The goal is to save 771 MW by 2020, enough to delay building the next power plant.

Last year, residents and businesses saved 139 MW of power through energy efficiency programs under STEP. That brings the total saved so far to 318 MW.

Customers who want to learn more about commercial lighting rebates can visit and try out a handy online commercial lighting calculator to determine an estimated rebate for a project.

Another great way for a business to earn a rebate during the summer is to join CPS Energy’s Demand Response program, which offers rebates in exchange for voluntarily reducing energy use during peak hours (3 – 7 p.m.) in the months of June through September.

Sam Taylor

Sam is part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.