A new elementary school under construction in Warren County is the latest building in the school district designed to reduce, or eliminate, the cost of energy. The energy program is even earning money for the district.
Construction equipment and work crews crisscross the site of the new Jennings Creek Elementary on Russellville Road in Warren County. The walls going up are made of material that’s dramatically cutting the cost of energy for Warren County Public Schools.
School District Energy Manager Jay Wilson says there’s no secret to reducing energy costs. It begins with the design of the building.
"It’s a combination of having energy efficiencies built into the building envelope, such as insulated concrete forms..."
Those insulated concrete forms look like giant Styrofoam Legos. Those forms stay in place and add insulation to reduce energy costs. Wilson says designing for energy efficiency pays off in dollars.
“We started an energy conservation program in the fall of 2003. Since that time we’ve been able to reduce our energy consumption by about 25 percent, and as far as avoided cost dollars, that’s about 11 million dollars that we’ve avoided.”
Wilson takes out a list of the savings - it ranges from more than $500,000 to more than $900,00 a year since 2003.
“And that’s money that would actually have been paid out for utility bills, but instead it stayed in the general fund and we can redirect that money into our classrooms for our students and staff and faculty to give them more technology, provide more school buses, whatever the school district needs,” said Wilson.
The district is aiming to have Jennings Creek Elementary be a ‘net zero’ school, meaning the building produces all of the energy it uses. Wilson says Jennings Creek won’t be at that point when it opens in the Fall of 2018.
“It’s going to be a ‘net zero ready’ school. It will have a smaller solar array in place.”
That smaller solar array is what project architect Kenny Stanfield says is the first phase of solar that can be expanded to reach the necessary kilowatt power for the school to produce all its own energy.
“We already have a 50kw system that will be installed on the roof. We would anticipate needing about a 350kw system to reach 'net zero'."
Stanfield says a major energy-saving element is the geothermal heating and cooling system.
“You’re basically using the constant temperature of the earth, which is like 57 degrees, to bridge the gap whether you’re heating or cooling the building.”
Ninety percent of Warren County Public Schools have geothermal systems for heating and cooling. Stanfield says geothermal and the other energy-saving elements that are part of the long-term plan make this school district stand out.
“What I find unique with Warren County is I don’t know of any other place in the nation where one school district has been so successful in reducing the energy that much in all of their buildings."
The spotlight began to shine on the Warren County school district when it opened Richardsville Elementary in 2010, the first ‘net zero’ school in the United States. What’s helped the energy-saving program move forward is the bottom line. Richardsville Elementary produces all the energy it needs, so there’s no electric bill. Wilson says Richardsville has leaped way ahead of that – the school actually brings in money.
“Well, if you take into consideration an average elementary school in Warren County would cost us around $7,500 to $8,500 a month, for just their monthly electric bill, so we’re not having to pay that. Plus at the end of the year we’re getting a residual check."
Wilson says the residual check is just for Richardsville Elementary.
“Typically it’s been running a little over $30,000 to $35,000 a year that we get back from the utilities because we produce more energy than we’re consuming and we put that on the grid, so they purchase it back from us. It’s basically a 'net positive' school.”
Wilson says part of the Warren County curriculum comes from the buildings themselves. Students learn about the energy efficiencies of the schools and renewable sources of energy.