Virginia Beach schools cutting energy use, spending

The Virginia Beach School District is spending less on energy, thanks in part to more efficient systems and behavioral changes as simple as turning the lights off sooner, a school official said.

The district spent about $153,000 less on utilities in the fiscal year that ended June 30 compared with the year prior, according to Jim Morris, the assistant director for environment and energy.

Morris presented the figures Tuesday at a School Board meeting.

Overall, the district spent $16.8 million last year on utilities — primarily electricity, gas and water, he said. If Virginia Beach Schools had kept using energy at the same rate they did in Fiscal Year 2006, the district would have spent more $20 million on utilities this year, he said.

Since 2006, the school district has increased its size in square footage by 9 percent and reduced its energy usage per square foot by 24 percent, according to Morris.

The costliest energy-user last year was Green Run High School, which racked up a utility bill of just less than $560,000. Fairfield Elementary came in with the lowest cost at $73,000.

Fairfield Elementary School had performance contracting done to fix the light structures. (Courtesy of Jim Morris)
Fairfield Elementary School received lighting upgrades to help it reduce energy costs. (Courtesy of Jim Morris)

To reduce utility costs, 32 schools in the district have received more energy-efficient light fixtures and newer heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

When changes were made at Strawbridge Elementary, the school’s Energy-Star rating jumped from 23 to 74, helping it earn an honorable mention from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning.

The district has also cut down on usage through a program Morris called “chasing the janitors.” It involves shutting off lights and lowering the temperature in one part of a building after it is done being used for the day, rather than waiting to turn off everything at night. Some areas can be shut down as early as 4 p.m.

Morris’ goal is to cut electricity use by 5 percent over the next few years. To get there, school officials are trying to get students more involved. At Ocean Lakes High School, home of the Mathematics and Science Academy, solar panels and wind turbines have been installed as learning and energy-saving tools. The savings from those devices don’t amount to much, but they are enough to off-set the extra electricity consumed by the car-charging station that a driver’s education class uses for its hybrid car, Morris said.

Landstown High School is also one of four Virginia schools in Dominion Power’s Solar for Schools’ inaugural class. The school will receive a 1-kilowatt education solar power system, training in the classroom and access to an online display showing data from the system. A “Solarbration” ceremony will be held at Landstown soon to mark the start of that project.

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