Electricity costs are on the rise. No one is excluded from the new rate increase that Empire Electric Association will implement on January 1.
However, that's not to say that the Montezuma-Cortez School District isn't trying to find a way to save bundles. In fact, on Thursday, Dec. 20, Empire Electric, on behalf of Tri-State Generation and Transmission, presented the Re-1 School District with a rebate check of approximately $32,439 for simply changing a few lightbulbs.
A few may be an understatement. Seven buildings in the district were given retrofitted lighting to reduce electricity costs and promote energy efficiency. Cortez Middle School, Montezuma-Cortez High School, the Re-1 Administration building, Manuagh, Kemper and Mesa elementary schools and the school district transportation building all received lighting upgrades to high compact fluorescent lighting. The rebate stems from the amount of wattage saved by the district.
The savings from all facilities that received lighting upgrades alone will be a reported $50,000. Any other energy efficient changes, such as digital heating and cooling, will save the district another $50,000 for a total of $100,000 saved on electricity costs within a year.
Melissa Brunner, chief financial officer for Re-1, was at the check presentation ceremony at CMS. The check was actually given to school administrators at the Dec. 11 school board meeting. Brunner said she knew about the rebate that was being given by Tri-State. Other school board members had no idea.
"The superintendent's (Alex Carter) mouth hit the floor," Brunner said. "Everyone was so shocked. We knew we were getting the rebate but we had no idea how substantial the amount would be."
Brunner, Superintendent Alex Carter and CMS Principal Jamie Haukeness received the check from Doug Sparks, member services manager of Empire, and Bill Mollenkopf, Tri-State Generation and Transmission representative. The laminated check was presented in the CMS gymnasium, where a chunk of the lighting installments occurred.
The CMS gym now has a string of about 30 large motion sensor lights that suspend from the ceiling. The auditorium section will stay dark when the gym is not in use and vice versa, keeping unnecessary wattage use down.
The general contractor who installed the new lighting, McKinstry Construction Corporation, also completed the 2008 project for the Mancos School District that reportedly saved the district $36,263 in the first year. That represents a 31 percent cost reduction.
The Montezuma-Cortez School District was impressed by the numbers and opted to participate in a similar program with McKinstry. The rebate was applied for at Empire before any upgrades in the district was done. Empire Electric did a walk through of the school building and performed an audit to determine problem areas and solutions.
Lighting replacements started in February 2012 and all commissions were installed by the end of May 2012. After construction was complete, Empire Electric walked through each building again.
"The board of directors at Tri-State found that lighting produces tremendous savings in kwh (kilowatt per hour) usage," Sparks said. "The district has not changed their operation but they can (more than likely) use 130,000 kwh less of electricity. Which is great because that is energy that will never be generated."
Sparks added that the installation was not focused solely on energy efficiency but also on better utilization of light.
McKinstry is a firm who designs, builds, operates and maintains sustainable solutions for the life of commercial buildings. They can specifically evaluate lighting and lighting use to correctly identify what kind of light will be beneficial for a particular space. For classrooms, the obvious need for new lighting was specific to a more conducive learning environment.
Leslie Larocque is the business development director for McKinstry. She said lighting and efficiency measures are something that all schools are looking at these days to tighten their operations budgets. The goals for the new lighting were quite clear.
"The program (from McKinstry's standpoint) is to educate staff and students in sustainability even in small changes of behavior," Larocque said. "And to enhance the learning environment through more efficient lighting and improvement of air quality with changes in ventilation."
CMS was the only school in the district that received a digital automation system for heating and cooling. The new system will stay between 68 and 72 degrees to help keep constant and comfortable temperatures throughout the year. It will digitally adjust according to air flow, whereas before, someone was physically having to adjust the temperature. A practice that can result in extreme fluctuations in electricity charges.
Larocque said McKinstry is also creating educational opportunities for students and staff by enforcing the powerED program in all Re-1 schools. Ashley Ruiz is the project coordinator for powerED.
"This program is designed to help teachers and students make changes like turning off lights when leaving a room, or turning off computer monitors for the day," Ruiz said. "This will not only help them to save money but will help identify opportunity in finding other issues in the building."
The powerED program will continue to work with the school district for the next two years.
Meanwhile, Brunner said the check will be kept in a fund until needed. When the new electric rates do go into effect she will be ready for the bill. Anything left over, Brunner plans on using to help balance the school budget.