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Washington County schools curb energy use, power bills

Madison Mathews • Feb 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM

According to statistics from the Alliance to Save Energy, if 10,000 schools turned off their lights for one minute it could save $81,885 in energy costs.

That kind of savings is something area educators with Washington County schools took notice of when they joined the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Schools program three years ago.

During the first year, five Washington County schools — Boones Creek Middle School, Gray Elementary, Fall Branch Elementary, Jonesborough Middle School and West View Elementary — participated in the program.

The Green Schools program is offered through the Alliance to Save Energy, an organization based in Washington, D.C. The program is designed to help students understand the importance of energy efficiency and how simple actions on their part make a difference as they become more aware of the link between energy efficiency and the environment.

By hitting the ground running and constantly trying to “think green,” the school system saved nearly $33,000 for the 2009-10 academic year compared to energy costs from the previous school year, according to Boones Creek Middle School principal and county Green Schools coordinator Mike Edmonds.

Last year, three new schools joined the program and according to totals released by the TVA, the school system saved a combined amount of $46,514 from September 2010 to October at David Crockett High School, Lamar Elementary and Sulphur Springs Elementary — bringing the total amount of savings to about $79,000 in energy costs at eight of the county’s schools.

With energy costs being one of the highest expenses school systems typically face, Edmonds said the Green Schools program has really taken on a life of its own at the participating schools with both students and teachers doing their part in order to make their school as energy efficient as possible.

“If we don’t have to spend $46,000 on those three schools for electricity, that’s money that can be put right back into the classroom. Saving $46,000 here — that adds up,” Edmonds said.

At Boones Creek Middle School, a Student Energy Audit Team led by 20 students went through the entire school measuring how much energy was being used by light fixtures, HVAC systems and other devices. By simply changing bulbs, turning off lights when not in use, adjusting the thermostat by one or two degrees and simply unplugging devices when not in use, the school began to see a drastic reduction in its energy usage.

“Each school has their own way of doing things, but the bottom line is a change in behavior. If you develop those habits with the children now, it creates awareness for later in life,” Edmonds said.

The students at Boones Creek Middle took the energy-saving initiatives to heart and even began implementing what they were learning in school to their lives at home, which is one of the goals of the overall program. Boones Creek was even featured in a promotional video produced by the TVA that has been used to promote the Green Schools program across the country.

At the classroom level, learning about energy efficiency is part of the state standards, so the program is really another way for students to better scores, according to Boones Creek Middle seventh-grade teacher Diana O’Neal, who has assisted the school’s energy audit team since the first year in the program.

“It ties right in with what we’re doing and not just in science and social studies. There are connections with math and language skills,” she said.

After the first year in the program, participating schools were provided with $1,000 from the energy savings in order to purchase equipment and other materials to help make the school more energy conscious.

The two-year commitment to the Green Schools program at Boones Creek Middle is over but its impact is something that will remain for years to come

“The hope is that the impact of these eight schools will have impacts in the county’s other schools. The school board has been very interested in saving dollars and they have been very pleased with the program and the support that we have gotten through it,” Edmonds said.

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