School district saves energy usage, money

Savings, reductions paid off by doing 'little bitty things'

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Juneau School District has saved $1.2 million by reducing its energy consumption and expenditure by 30 percent during the past 30 months.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Those savings and reductions have mostly been through "little bitty things that we're doing to change behaviors," said Joyce Kitka, the district's energy education manager.

Custodians have changed schools' summer maintenance schedule and how they clean after school, making sure they turn off lights. Staff are turning off lights and unplugging machines when they leave the building. During the holiday break, Gastineau Elementary became the first school to achieve "100 percent shutdown."

"Right now we're working with staff to get them to be more conscious," Kitka said. "What we're trying to get people to do in schools, most of us don't accomplish in our own homes ... that's changing behavior, and that's hard."

The district has been guided in how to help change some of those behaviors through a four-year contract with the Dallas-based company Energy Education, which it entered 30 months ago to help find ways to reduce energy costs.

Tuesday, the district received the "Energy Excellence" award from the company for its reductions.

"Thirty percent is huge; we have districts that never get to thirty percent," said representative Ed Graff, presenting the award.

As part of the program, Kitka tracks energy consumption, including electricity, water, sewer and fuel oil using energy-accounting software. All costs for the program come out of the district's existing utility budget.

The contract is about $72,000 per year, said Director of Administrative Services David Means, to whom Kitka reports.

Means said it's difficult to say what the district might have had to do without the savings, but it might have had to cut back on some priorities. "Because we didn't have to make that decision, we didn't," he said. "We were able to spend money in places other than energy."

"It used to be if it was too hot or too cold, we'd just turn the heat up. Now we go and see why, and what we can do to fix that problem," Kitka said.

Thunder Mountain High School, under construction when the district began the Energy Education program, has also been a learning experience.

"In this building alone we've spent a lot of time saying 'this isn't working, this isn't where we want it to be,'" Kitka said. "We want to be able to control our destiny here and how much light we're using."

The next step is working with schools to attain certification as "Energy Star" schools. Right now, all but one school qualifies, Kitka said.

"This is not a race. We just keep moving along and coming up with new ideas, doing things, and trying not to go back to old habits," he said. "Every penny we save from our utility bill is a penny more for education."

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or

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