District implements new energy program

District implements new energy program

The Oracle

Village classrooms are among the rooms impacted by new energy policies which aim to reduce energy costs.

by Lydia Zhang:

Photos by Wendy Qiu:

To decrease heating and cooling costs and increase energy efficiency, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has partnered with Energy Education to implement an energy conservation program. The program’s changes are expected to affect students and teachers alike.

Energy Education is a consultant group that has helped more than 1,000 other school districts, many of which are similar to PAUSD. “Energy Education are the ones who have the plans,” PAUSD’s Energy Specialist Rebecca Navarro said. “They know our local climate and they have lots of ideas about where we should trim the fat.” PAUSD has adopted a policy supporting the program proposed by Energy Education, as well as a specific set of guidelines for electricity, natural gas and water use in schools.

Through these changes, PAUSD hopes to avoid spending $600,000 in utility bills, which is a significant portion of the $2.4 million energy budget. Energy Education charges a fee for their consultation services; however, the fee comes out of the first year’s savings. “The great thing about this is that if PAUSD doesn’t make the projected savings, Energy Education doesn’t charge us and they cover my salary,” Navarro said. “We’re not adding a position to the district. They’ll cover it or the savings will cover it, so it’s really nice in that regard.”

As outlined by the district, Gunn’s heating, air-conditioning (AC) and ventilation systems are now being regulated. In cold temperatures, classrooms can only be heated to a maximum of 69 degrees. In sweltering conditions, rooms can be cooled down to a maximum of 74 degrees. “There wasn’t a district-wide baseline for heating and cooling before this,” Navarro said. “It was mostly left to individual taste, preference and discretion.”

In cold temperatures, classrooms can only be heated to a maximum of 69 degrees. In sweltering conditions, rooms can be cooled down to a maximum of 74 degrees.

According to Assistant Principal Kim Cowell, the administration has not received any recent complaints from teachers about the new classroom temperature regulations. Though the temperatures are set to a specific range the teachers still have some control over the heating and cooling in their rooms. “The heat is scheduled to come on before school starts,” Cowell said. “If you are a teacher who arrives significantly earlier, then [you] can actually override [it] and turn the heat on.”

Steps have been taken to ensure that no energy is wasted in heating or cooling. “We’re asking that when heating or cooling is in place, the doors and windows are kept shut to help keep the temperatures stable,” Navarro said. According to Cowell, the only thing that could become a problem is heating in the portables, as they are not as well-insulated as the permanent classrooms, and thus will lose heat faster and require more heating. “That is going to be in issue, as you end up having the heat on all the time,” Cowell said. “It could get a little problematic.”

Teachers in the portables have been noticing the changes. “I feel like I can cool and heat enough, though the classroom does take a while to heat and is really cold in the morning,” social studies teacher Ronin Habib said. Habib’s classroom is a portable in the Village. However, some teachers have concerns about the program. “The thing I’m most concerned about is I don’t know how accurate or how quick-to-adjust the thermostats are in here,” English teacher Mark Hernandez said. “It seems very dangerous to have a firm policy on a small window of temperatures when you have system that can’t guarantee inclusion in that window.”

However, according to Navarro, though the portables are less energy-efficient than the classrooms, the new policy cannot do much about the poor insulation or about the portables’ separate heating and cooling systems. “One of the most important parts in the program is that there is no capital improvement,” Navarro said. “So, I cannot recommend or advocate that anybody spend money to save money.” Instead, Navarro is working with the district and Energy Education to make all school building components as conservative as possible. As well as reducing heating and cooling costs, Gunn is also finding new ways to cut electricity usage. “We direct all of our staff to turn off their computers when they leave for the evening,” Cowell said.

As Gunn is the second-biggest energy consumer after Palo Alto High School (Paly), the school plays a large role in this program’s success. “Gunn has to be good stewards for the new AC system,” Navarro said. “At Paly, the AC system has been in operation for long enough that people have their good and bad AC habits already established, while there’s a clean slate at Gunn to get everybody started with only good habits.” The policy guidelines also stipulate that the entire district get on board with energy conservation.