In the last decade, Centreville High School has transformed its energy use.
The school, which serves some 2,300 students and is continuing to grow, has cut its energy use by about 40 percent — going from 5.1 million kilowatt hours of consumption in 2001 to 3.5 million in 2012.
“Centreville High School is one [energy saving program] that I’m kind of proud of because we’ve done a lot of upgrading there,” said Tom Reinsel, Fairfax County Public Schools’ coordinator for energy management. “It used to be an energy hog.”
Centreville High School recently was listed by the federal ENERGY STAR database as being in the 94th percentile of schools nationwide for energy use, meaning the school is performing better than 94 percent of other schools listed.
“ENERGY STAR is an EPA benchmarking system,” Reinsel said. “It’s similar to when you have an ENERGY STAR label on a computer or a refrigerator, only this is for buildings. … We use it for benchmarking so we can understand better how schools compare to each other and how we can do better [to reduce consumption]. So, we track the ENERGY STAR scores monthly.”
ENERGY STAR is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to save money and the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. The program estimates its users saved enough energy in 2010 alone to lower greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 33 million cars, and saving nearly $18 billion in utility bill costs.
Virginia has 211 K-12 schools that have received the ENERGY STAR label, a designation given to those schools that receive an energy efficiency score of 75 (out of 100) or better. Scores are based on a formula that includes power usage weighed against student enrollment, building size, number of computers in the building and more.
Fairfax County Public Schools boasts 47 schools on that list. The school system received its first certifications in 2009 (ten schools that year) and has added about 10 schools a year since.
Centreville was one of the first schools in the county to receive the ENERGY STAR certification.
Fairfax County Public Schools, with its near 200 facilities, had the most schools receiving ENERGY STAR certifications in the state.
Loudoun County Public Schools had the second-most schools, with 42 schools currently holding certifications, according that school system; followed by Virginia Beach Public Schools and the County of Albemarle school system, both of which had 21 facilities receiving certifications.
Fairfax County school officials said that while many of their neighboring school systems are adding new energy-efficient facilities to aid increasing student enrollments, Fairfax County is tasked with retrofitting existing and often aging facilities with energy-saving equipment.
“A lot of our strategy is around adapting [existing facilities] and reusing what we have to reduce our carbon output,” said Kevin Sneed, director of the school system’s Design and Construction Services.
With renovations of existing facilities, the school system construction staff includes in its plans energy savers like new lighting systems, more efficient air conditioners and heating systems, and an energy management system that turns off lights, and lowers AC or heating when schools are not in use, such as during holidays and summer vacations.
“Adapting and reusing buildings is really the smartest thing we can do,” Sneed said. “If you look at your energy consumption in a building, it’s either lighting or ventilation systems. … We’re piloting LED lay-in light fixtures at Spring Hill Elementary [School in McLean]. … We’re definitely seeing global climate change and we’re looking at our footprint here within the school system.”
Reinsel described the school system’s energy-saving efforts as aggressive and said powering the schools — specifically heating and cooling — is an expense that adds up. For example, last year Centreville High School’s power bill was $430,000. Robinson Secondary School — another ENERGY STAR school, which houses one of the largest student bodies in the county — spent $770,000 last year on energy consumption. It’s a lot of money, but it could have been more without energy-cutting plans in place, Reinsel said.
“Because we’ve had an energy management program for so long, if you ask for how much we’re saving over the years it would be tens of millions of dollars a year,” he said.