It is time to upgrade the energy-using systems in our public schools in order to reduce costs and improve the learning environment. Creating a statewide initiative to carry out all cost-effective energy saving measures would allow these significant public benefits.
January 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the School Energy Management Program, or SEMP. The anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on how schools in Vermont are using energy, how the program assisted them, and to consider better ways to respond to our schools’ needs.
Most Vermont schools now have efficient lighting systems and better facilities management. Vermont leads the nation with about 30% of our public school children attending woodchip heated schools. The use of woodchips results both in annual fuel cost savings of about $2.6 million and in positive effects on our overall economy and forest management. Significant additional cost-effective conversions to renewable biomass systems (chips and pellets) can be achieved.
Currently, the greatest need is for major upgrades to heating systems and weatherization. When these systems are improved, we use less energy, save taxpayer money, and, just as importantly, provide an environment that is more conducive to our children’s education.
Wide-ranging school renovations like these are difficult to execute; most of the work must happen over the summer. Without a strategic and unified approach, we are forgoing the opportunity for much greater savings.
For these reasons, I am recommending that there be a state-wide comprehensive initiative to perform all cost-effective energy improvements in all of our public schools. A centralized effort that works in collaboration with school personnel, SEMP, and Efficiency Vermont will help address all of the barriers to having this work performed. Because of the economies of scale and reduced administrative overhead, we can make our schools more efficient at lower cost.
The full program cost should be borne statewide because, with the state education fund, we all share in the savings to our schools. While implementation of this proposal will be complex, the basic steps and reasons to achieve the goals are straightforward and easy to agree upon. The benefit to our environment, our taxpayers, and our children, will be well worth the investment and hard work.
Director, Vermont Superintendents Association’s School Energy Management Program