Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 2

May 30, 2017

Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 2

Virginia Energy Sense interviewed Loudoun County Public School’s Energy and Environment Program Administrators John Lord and Mike Barancewicz.  The LCPS Energy and Environment team has won multiple awards for their energy saving efforts.

This is part two of a two-part interview.  You can read part one on the VES website. 

Loudoun County Energy & Environment Team Motto

“Every dollar that pays an unnecessarily high energy bill could be spent for a much better purpose – teaching children.”

 

6. What’s your advice for parents and their children who are trying to conserve energy and lower their energy use?

Use ENERGY STAR.  The ENERGY STAR program is free and is the best that the world has to offer.  There are many tools and resources that can be used at home, at work, in places of worship, in public buildings, and all around us.  Learn about how consumer electronics use energy, understand how buildings use energy, and take the time to understand that actions that people take will create opportunities for energy conservation.  LCPS has been an ENERGY STAR partner since 1998.  Our District has been named a Partner of the Year and Sustained Excellence Partner of the Year eight times in a row: 2010-2017.  LCPS has a procedure which states that ENERGY STAR products will be purchased when they are available and fulfil program requirements.  LCPS has a policy which states that facility operations and systems performance shall be monitored, measured and verified via the EPA ENERGY STAR Program.  LCPS has earned over 350 ENERGY STAR certifications at sixty-nine different facilities.  LCPS is a firm believer that ENERGY STAR is the place to start.

 

7. What do each of you do to save energy in your homes/workplace that someone else can feasibly do?

Saving energy at home requires an understanding of where energy is used.  An individual or a family can’t really do much to reduce their energy consumption if they are not aware of how they use energy.  Heating and cooling of the home is a major energy use component.  Lighting can be a major player, laundry, dishwashing, hot water, entertainment systems, computers and network equipment, even “vampire energy users” – things that use energy even if they have been turned off can all account for energy use.

The two of us have a pretty strong awareness of what uses energy in our homes.  Some of the simplest ways to save, things that anyone could do would include:  Only turn things on when they are actually needed. Adjust thermostat settings based on when the home will be occupied.  Use cold water for laundry.  Take shorter showers.  Run the dishwasher only when it is full.  Place items that are rarely used on a power strip and turn the power off at the strip so that the “vampire” energy consumption is eliminated.  These, and many other small actions, can add up to a significant reduction.

The big problem is that energy conservation is a process that can be very well compared to losing weight.  Nearly everyone knows that if a person eats less, eats healthier things and does a bit of exercise, they will lose weight.  The problem is actually doing those things.  Something must happen to cause a person to take things seriously and truly buckle down.  Although the savings are real, and can be substantial, most people feel like they are trading convenience for energy savings.  Unless the dollar amounts are substantial enough they soon lose interest.  However, if a person values energy conservation and considers it important enough, saving energy is not intensely difficult.  It can be done and each of us have the capacity to be successful if we choose to.

 

8. What ways do you think VES could partner with school systems to help them teach children about saving energy and helping the schools take steps to save energy?

The VES mission is to help Virginians understand their energy use, and what they can do to save energy easily and cost effectively.  The LCPS Energy and Environment Team is a complimentary program.  We are trying to help people move in the same direction.  Many school systems in Virginia have similar goals.  In fact, the overall mission of LCPS is to empower all students to make meaningful contributions to the world.  Reducing energy use in a cost effective and simple manner is something that would certainly be considered a meaningful contribution to the world.  VES and school districts could absolutely work together in many symbiotic ways.

Essentially, there are two main ways VES could get involved.  Instruction is one way.  If that is the way VES chooses to go, please take a look at an article available at the following URL:  https://tinyurl.com/m72qcyp.  This article is a great framework for potentially getting involved in instruction.  Operations is the second way.  If that is the way VES chooses to go, please keep promoting ENERGY STAR and consider promoting ENERGY STAR Partners and Service Providers like Cenergistic http://www.cenergistic.com which has helped our school district so much over the years.

 

9. Have you seen interest in energy efficiency/conservation initiatives in other school systems in Virginia?

There are many school districts in Virginia that are doing excellent work.  We have professional colleagues in this region – Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and others who all are doing a great job working on their school initiatives.  Cathy Lin in Arlington has been highlighting Discovery Elementary, the first Net Zero Energy School in the region.  Alexandria City Public Schools has earned ENERGY STAR certification for at least thirteen of their schools, which is quite impressive.  Fairfax County Public Schools has been named an ENERGY STAR partner of the Year for 2017; that makes them one of only two districts in our region ever to receive this kind of recognition.  Brian Gorham and his team in Prince William County have put together excellent formal Energy Management plans every year since the 2013-2014 school year.  The detailed plans they have made have allowed them to execute work with impressive results of over $10 million in savings since 2012.

This is just a short list of a few of our regional colleagues.  There is great work going on all around the Commonwealth.  Chesapeake County Public Schools, as a participant in Dominion’s Solar Partnership Program installed the largest rooftop solar energy system in Virginia at Western Branch High School in April 2016.  Virginia Beach City Public Schools has a fantastic program, and they have an enviable sustainability report that can be found at the following URL:  http://www.vbschools.com/SustainableSchools/content/pdfs/SustainabilityReport.pdf.

This list represents only a few of the good things that are being done in Public School Districts around Virginia.  It would be great if school district actions around the state were better publicized.  What is being done is great, but not explained to the public very well, or very often.  Improved public awareness and understanding could lead to even better results.  In many cases, energy efficiency and conservation are just “the right thing to do,” so a school district just quietly proceeds doing good work that we will never know about.  Hopefully, the few examples we did list didn’t leave any of our close colleagues out and they provide a good sense of what kind of initiatives are out there.

 

10. What led to both of you leading the LCPS Energy & Environment Team?

There is a lot to the story of how we got here.  Probably the most important part is the role of Cenergistic (formerly Energy Education, Incorporated) which is a consulting company that has worked in partnership with Loudoun County Public Schools since 1993.  In 2004, our predecessor, Mac Corwine, retired.  One of the consulting services that Cenergistic provided was the hiring of his replacements.  Two people were hired due to the tremendous growth of the district.  When Mac started in 1993, there were 32 schools in Loudoun County.  When we took over in 2004, there were 64.  It may have taken two of us to replace Mac, but together we make a terrific team.  Cenergistic saw something in us that was prescient, perhaps even visionary.  We love working together and are glad they saw potential for a good team despite our very different backgrounds.

What we have come to understand is that the two of us work together really well.  We have taken some time to try to figure out why.  Although we don’t have the full recipe for the “secret sauce” we do know what some of the ingredients are.  The first ingredient is the fact that one of us came to the team as a subject-matter expert on energy and engineering and the other arrived knowing all the inner workings and hidden mechanisms that make a public school district work.  This complementary disparity allowed us to lean on each other and work together to implement a program that would not have been as good if either part were missing.

Another component is our ability to communicate well and differentiate between those things that truly need team attention and those things that one or the other of us can handle on behalf of, and with full support of our teammate, but without any consultation required between us.  Being able to take the lead on individual things without fear of negative team repercussions frees up huge amounts of potential.  Not only that, the ability to work together on the really broad and vital items allows us to pull from one another’s strengths and avoid the pitfalls that either of our weakness may cause if we were working alone.

If we weren’t each the kind of person who could do the things mentioned above, the team would be less because of it.  How, exactly, we got to be the people we are would take a book to write, so the whole story of what led to us getting here may have to wait.  However, if others were to find a way to replicate the characteristics we described, we believe they would be well on their way to being a successful set of team leaders too.

 

11. Tell us more about the Energy & Environment Team: why was it formed and what sets it apart from other energy efficiency school programs in the state and the U.S.?

In 1993, LCPS entered into a business partnership with Energy Education, Incorporated (now Cenergistic).  Cenergistic is a firm specializing in energy management consulting.  Cenergistic builds customized comprehensive people-driven energy conservation programs that help organizations reduce their consumption of electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and water, allowing the resulting financial savings to be invested back into the core activities of their clients.  LCPS and Cenergistic share a common commitment to fiscal and social responsibility and the wise use of limited financial and environmental resources.

The partnership was unique in many ways, not the least of which was the fact that although the school district only made payments for four years, we continue to be supported by Cenergistic to this day.  This is not a Cenergistic commercial, but suffice to say that LCPS has been very satisfied.  Over time, the program has evolved.  To begin with, much of the work was done behind the scenes and without a lot of involvement from staff outside the Division of Support Services.  This worked for the first decade of the program.  However, when we were hired in 2004, we knew that the program had the potential to be more.

Including everyone and making sure that there was greater awareness of the program was what led us to create the Energy and Environment Team.  We were once told that if even one person who uses a school district facility doesn’t know about the energy management program and what we are trying to do, then we have failed.  We have turned this around and made it a bit more positive:  Every person who uses a school district facility and doesn’t know what the energy and environment team is doing and why it is being done represents an opportunity for us to recruit that person on the team.  The hyper-inclusiveness of the program sets LCPS apart, but there is more to it than that.

LCPS utilizes technology and equipment that is efficient, but we do not rely on those things to reduce LCPS energy use.  Instead, we recognize that those things are just tools.  The people who use those tools, the decisions they make, and the actions they take are what makes our program successful.  Whether it is a teacher who knows how and when to turn off a computer, a kitchen manager who shuts the kitchen down for a holiday, a coach who uses field lighting only when necessary, an HVAC technician who implements good preventive maintenance, a principal who motivates everyone to make good decisions – the list goes on and on.  People, not things, make the LCPS program work.  Knowing, publicizing, believing and making decisions based on this makes our program very different than most.

 

12. What were challenges/opportunities you noticed or experienced when you both first started your work?

We have been blessed with so many opportunities; it is hard to even count them all.  Just one example has a few facets that make it really fascinating.  Although the program that we inherited was, by all accounts successful, it was a behind the scenes program.  For the most part, Support Services staff took action, rarely mentioning what they did.  By essentially having no formal public relations / marketing / media component to the program, we were allowed to build the messaging, bring more people into, and expand the effectiveness of the program.

Because of the new flow of information that we provided at faculty meetings and to internal staff, we were given another level of responsibility.  We had a chance to present the program and some of its outcomes to the School Board.  Because we had taken the time to educate our staff leadership, they trusted us to present to the Board members.  All this resulted in one of the first major culture changes within the district.  People began to know and understand how important Energy and the Environment are.  However, not everyone was so knowledgeable yet.

That brings us to another facet of this amazing opportunity that our team was presented with.  The reality was that many healthy and environmentally friendly things were going on in LCPS, so many different people had been playing a role, and so much of it was simply not being publicized.  Even the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was unaware of the depth of LCPS actions.  When the Supervisors asked for an update, our team was given the honor of presenting the overall LCPS program to a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.

Telling the story of what the energy and environment team does, who is on the team and what the collective impact of everyone’s efforts has been has ended up being a fantastic opportunity for us on many levels.

 

13. Are there any other projects led by the Energy & Environment team that we should know about?

This question could take a very long time to answer.  The LCPS Energy and Environment team does a great many things and is involved in so many different activities, the best way to get a sense of what types of work we do is to look at the LCPS website:  https://www.lcps.org/Domain/121.  A recent project has been LCPS support of our partnership with ENERGY STAR and our recommendation that entities consider using the Designed to Earn ENERGY STAR (DEES) process.  Every LCPS facility that has been built since 2011 (a total of 14 schools) has earned the DEES designation.  Those schools that have been operated for the required 12 months to be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification have gone on to be certified.  This is a great success story, but it only represents one sub item under one of the eleven main items on the bulleted list of our Team’s core objectives:

  1. Implement methods for measuring and recognizing success.
  2. Administer ENERGY STAR program to highlight and recognize achievements.

There are fifty-one sub items, each of which could have a substantial list of action items broken out underneath it.  To make a long story short, we stay busy and never run out of things to work on.  If Virginia Energy Sense is interested in making a series of blogs to talk about how we execute each of the items we work on, we would be happy to do so, but in the interest of time, perhaps we should leave it with just the one item for now.

 

Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 2