Energy conservation results in savings

Clovis High School Principal Jody Balch turns off his printer and computer Wednesday afternoon in his office at the high school. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Rising heating and energy costs led a school district in Minnesota to enact a $25-per-appliance annual fee, meaning teachers have to pay to use coffee makers, microwaves, and refrigerators on the premises.

The Clovis Municipal School district hasn’t gone that far, but it has refined its energy habits.

The district launched a new energy management plan in May to eliminate unnecessary energy use by turning down thermostats and turning off lights, appliances and equipment.

“Things that were taken for granted before — like turning off computers at the end of the night, or shutting off all the lights once you leave the room — are not taken for granted anymore,” Clovis Municipal Schools Director of Public Relations and Federal Programs David Briseno said.

“It’s a simple concept. We are saving pennies and nickels to save big dollars in the end. But every single person has to buy into it for it to work.”

By many accounts, school employees are buying into the program. In six months, the district has saved $68,982, despite rising energy costs, according to the district’s cost avoidance report. That’s 18 percent less than the district spent on energy last year, the report showed.

“Some staff members have even carried it (the program) to their homes and are now more energy conscious there,” said program advocate and Barry Elementary School Principal Carrie Bunce.

But school officials also credit the energy stash pile to a single man, Energy Manager Mike Thomson. He roams school hallways after hours, making sure lights are off, doors are shut, computers aren’t humming, and thermostats are turned down. Thomson said during the winter, school thermostats should be lowered to 65 degrees and can be raised 7 degrees during the day.

“This program is a marathon, not a sprint. Success is based on how well we continue to adhere to the guidelines set forth,” said Thomson, a former store manager and Clovis Municipal Schools warehouse employee.

His school checkups are benign, according to Clovis Municipal Schools Director of Personnel Jim McDaniel.

“He works around the clock, not to find people and fry them on why they are not following guidelines, but to gauge the success of the program,” McDaniel said.

“This is a fun, see-what-we-can-do-to-save program, rather than a burdensome, Nazi-looking-down-your-shoulder thing,” McDaniel said.

Thomson was trained for his new position by Energy Education, Inc. The district contracted with the company, which has designed customized energy conservation plans for schools in 48 states, last February.

A portion of money the district has stockpiled through the program will be funneled to that company, according to McDaniel. The rest will be returned to the district’s operational budget, he said.