For Northside Independent School District, energy efficiency has become almost as common as academics and athletics. While you won’t find the term “conservation” in the district’s mission statement, it has become a philosophy it practices often, to be good neighbors and good stewards of public dollars.
Northside has been thinking energy conservation since the late 1990s. Back then, conservation was more behavior based – turning off lights when they were not in use and shutting down equipment at night. However, as technology has evolved, so have the district’s efforts. Today, new, energy-efficient lighting as well as heating and cooling systems are forcing school administrators to do their homework.
When high-efficiency lighting started hitting the market almost 10 years ago, CPS Energy saw the potential. A willing partner was needed to test its value, and NISD raised its hand. Marshall High School was offered as a test site for lighting retrofits.
“They found out at Marshall that the lighting quality was considerably better and the pay back was less than six months. That was really the genesis of what we see today in our commercial lighting retrofit program,” said Clayton Kruse, manager of energy solutions at CPS Energy.
Seven years and 93 projects later, NISD is leading the way in energy efficiency rebates. CPS Energy has paid the district $3.3 million so far; almost $1.5 million of that this year.
NISD’s success did not come without a plan. Initiatives such as lighting retrofits and heating and cooling system improvements were carried out as part of voter-approved bond elections in 2007 and 2010. Rather than focus on the initial, upfront costs of new equipment, the district prefers to eye the long-term costs and benefits of such improvements.
“Energy efficiency is so engrained in the district’s philosophy, that it’s not a question of should the district invest in it, but really at what level and will the technology and equipment be reliable and dependable from a maintenance standpoint,” said Allen Goldapp, NISD’s energy management coordinator.
“It really has less to do with energy efficiency and what it might save us, but what the dependability and maintenance costs will be. We don’t want to lose on the energy side by having to spend more on the maintenance side.”
More efficiency improvements were recently approved in a 2014 bond vote. Goldapp says the district has become so adept at energy efficiency and changing technology, that now it is looking at improving the retrofits and improvements that were installed in schools 10 years ago.
“We do all of this stuff out of bond issues,” he says. “We’ve had the cash flow to invest, and we’ve invested wisely.”
Goldapp considers several recent projects as signs of the district’s success. For example, lighting retrofits installed at 14 schools last year saved the district more than $140,000 in energy costs over eight months. Another lighting project at Los Reyes Elementary saved another $28,000 in energy. An innovative new chilling “plant” at Zachry Middle School cut energy use by 30 percent.
NISD is the only district, so far, to qualify for CPS Energy’s new construction rebate, which focuses on an efficient building model that includes lighting, chiller systems, mechanical systems, building envelope and building orientation. The district has three schools that qualified.
In addition to rebates, the district also participates in CPS Energy’s demand response program, reducing energy load on peak energy demand days during the summer months.
In the end, NISD understands that saving energy pays. Lower operating costs and the rebate dollars that follow leave more money for the district’s highest priority — its students.