Champaign schools to focus on steps to save energy

CHAMPAIGN – A Champaign school board member wants to challenge each school building in the district to reduce its energy use intensity – how much energy is used based on its square footage – by 10 percent over the next year.

Board member Kristine Chalifoux will talk about ways the district can reduce its energy use when the board meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 S. New St., C.

Superintendent Arthur Culver noted that one of the goals of the district's long-range strategic plan, completed last fall, was to make its buildings more energy-efficient and sustainable. Champaign would have used some of its share of the countywide school sales tax, which was narrowly defeated in November, to improve the energy efficiency of its school buildings.

"We've been asking the community for more money to implement the things they told us they wanted to do. They want our schools to be more energy-efficient," Chalifoux said. "We haven't been able to get the money to do the big things, but there are lots of little things we can do."

And some of them cost nothing. For example, Chalifoux will propose the district ask all its schools to set all its computers and monitors to go to a power-saving mode after 15 minutes of no use. She described leaving them on as "a 100-watt light bulb sitting there burning."

Computers, monitors, printers, copy machines and other equipment should be turned off on weekends and vacations or during other times when they are not in use, she said. Refrigerators and large appliances should be turned off during breaks of two weeks or more. Teachers in classrooms with windows can turn off lights when there is sufficient sunlight to light their rooms.

"I think these cost-effective measures will also create healthy environments for our students to learn in," Culver said. "These are some things we can do in the meantime, instead of just waiting until we get the money to really significantly change our infrastructure."

There are other measures that are relatively low in cost and will pay for themselves quickly, Chalifoux said. They include switching incandescent bulbs in exit lights to LEDs; installing energy management systems on vending machines; replacing current fluorescent lights and ballasts with more energy-efficient ones; and using occupancy sensors in offices, classrooms, bathrooms, and janitor and maintenance rooms, so lights will turn off when the rooms are not being used.

Chalifoux would like to see the district hire an electrician or use a current employee who is qualified to make the changes.

"Especially in these tough times, I would much rather tighten our belt by not sending money to the utility companies than taking other actions," she said. "If it's really done well, we can start saving 10 or 20 percent on our energy bills."

She said there is an up-front cost to some of her proposals, but there are also rebates and incentives available for "green" technology. For example, an energy management system for a vending machine costs $179, but there is a $100 rebate available, she said.

"There are all these little, simple, simple things we can do, and we need to do it," she said. "Especially right now, we need to be responsible with our money."

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