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State's Schools Waste Energy

Public System's Buildings Among Least Efficient In Nation, Study Says

August 11, 2006
By MARK PETERS, Courant Staff Writer

While energy prices in Connecticut are some of the highest in the country, the state's public schools are some of the nation's least energy-efficient, according to a new study.

The added expenses for heat and electricity costs taxpayers between $46 million and $69 million a year, said the study, released this week by the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Energy consumption in Connecticut schools is much higher than average, according to a database of 7,000 schools kept by the U.S. Department of Energy, the study showed.

"Schools are in dire need of efficiency upgrades to break the cycle that is a drain on our educational resources," said William Leahy, chief operating officer for the institute.

State officials say they're discussing legislation designed to improve the energy efficiency of new or renovated schools, but said that trying to update the state's existing 1,026 schools would be incredibly costly.

The state already provides about $700 million a year for school construction projects. The ECSU study did not offer an estimate of the cost to update buildings to be more energy-efficient.

"There are just so many resources to go around," said state Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven, co-chairman of the legislature's energy and technology committee.

Leahy said the age of many of the state's schools has a lot to do with their efficiency problems. Most were built from the early 1950s to the late 1970s, when energy was cheap, and the design and construction reflected that: single-pane windows, limited insulation and inefficient boilers.

"You know what they look like. They're slab construction. They're flat-roofed," Leahy said.

The institute scored the energy consumption of Connecticut's school on a scale of one to 100. Schools in the state scored 26, on average, compared with the national average of 50, according to a U.S. Department of Energy database, which factored in variables such as climate, enrollment and days of operation, Leahy said.

The report makes several recommendations for how the state can improve energy efficiency in the schools and save taxpayers money.

Leahy said that's important for school districts that saw energy bills jump by more than 35 percent during the past year. The high energy costs resulted in program cuts and staff reductions in some communities, Leahy said.

For instance, Leahy said, new schools can adhere to higher construction requirements that might include more use of natural light, double-paned windows and energy-efficient appliances.

Cutting energy costs is more difficult in existing buildings. Fontana said the state is looking to provide additional money for energy-efficiency renovation projects, something that could be addressed in a special session this year or at the next legislative session.

Leahy said that the money put into energy upgrades can be recouped through lower energy bills during the next five to 10 years.

Al Hinds, chief of building operations for Hartford's public schools, said he has seen increased attention paid to energy costs in recent years.

The district has done energy audits, considered electricity and fuel use when planning new construction, and hired a firm that gets paid based on how much it saves the city in energy costs.

But at the same time, Hinds said, he oversees 45 buildings, many of which were built at a time when energy prices weren't a concern.

Lowering energy costs in those buildings will be much more difficult, he said.

"It's a challenge not only for Hartford, but all other school districts," Hinds said

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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