Visitors to several Holly Area School District facilities have likely noticed a new, vivid plaque welcoming them lately. Five HAS facilities: Patterson, Holly and Davisburg Elementary Schools, Sherman Middle School, and Holly High School, were recently recognized by the United States Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being Energy Star efficient facilities, a citation that only 60 K-12 facilities in the state of Michigan received in 2010, representing only 10 school districts statewide.
Energy Star recognition is not an easy achievement to reach. Facilities must self-evaluate their energy and water consumption, energy performance and efficiency, estimate carbon footprints, and provide planning and documentation towards being an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly facility. Commercial or educational facilities that rate in the top 25% of self-evaluation ratings must then be reviewed and validated by a professional engineer or architect before they may apply for the Energy Star. Industrial facilities must rate within the top 25% of their particular industry, and all facilities are continuously monitored by the EPA to ensure they are maintaining their Energy Star performance levels.
Receiving the Energy Star in all five facilities that were applied for demonstrates that the Holly Area Schools are not just undertaking quick fixes to reduce costs in the face of critical operating budgets. Energy Star recognition represents commitment and long-term investment in clean- and energy-efficient technologies. Along with that comes a variety of risks involving fiscal responsibility and perception. New energy-efficient technologies, such as the LED (light emiting diode) lights that illuminate the parking lot and sidewalks at Patterson Elementary carry high up-front costs compared to conventional halogen lamps. Replacing functioning systems with newer, more efficient technologies, such as the sodium-vapor lamps in the high school gymnasium or the single massive boilers in the elementary schools, may be perceived as, “spending money to fix what isn’t broken.”
What tends to be overlooked, though, is that although replacing those sodium lamps with fluorescent lights with automated occupancy sensors incurs an up-front cost, those systems will pay themselves off in less than three years through drastically lowered utility costs. These systems can also last up to 20 years or more with little maintenance or replacement, barring new significant technological improvements in efficiency during that period. In the previous year alone, Holly Area Schools have reduced gas and electrical consumption by nearly 20%, representing more than a million dollars saved in utility costs.
Holly Area Schools also do not have some of the luxuries that other private businesses or municipal organizations have when looking at cutting energy costs. Consideration must be given to ensure that there is balance between energy conservation and a productive educational environment. Schools also serve as facilities for public usage well into most evenings. Options like a four-day business week or simply lowering the thermostat and requesting students put on a sweater simply aren’t feasible.
The lesson of long-term planning and investing in efficient energy technology is one that can be learned by any public or private entity, though. With continued 9-digit deficits at the state level looming on the horizon, local governments are going to be forced to make difficult cuts in the next several years. The common approach to these difficult times will likely be, “handle this year, brace for next year.”
For each cut that our local governments must make, our leaders should also be looking for opportunities to invest in energy efficient technologies, or incorporate technology in cost-saving or consolidating initiatives. LED street lights powered by batteries fueled by solar-cells could marginalize the most visible use of traditional electricity throughout the community. The prospective redevelopment of the current village offices opens the door to integrating energy efficient technology or LEED principles in the successor facilities—putting a building back on the tax rolls while cutting long-term costs. These opportunities are only limited by the will to innovate and willingness to learn and adopt new technology.
With a commitment to energy-efficient technology as a part of Holly’s future, perhaps we’ll see many more Energy Stars shining greenly throughout the community.