Energy program saves Niles district more than $1 million

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - In a time when school districts are facing state funding cuts, Niles Community Schools reached a milestone in savings with an innovative energy conservation program.
Through a partnership with Energy Education Inc., the Niles school district has saved more than $1 million in energy costs by reducing wasteful energy consumption since October 1997.
Law credits Richard Heemer, the district's energy manager, and the custodial and maintenance staff within the district with being the main force behind the program's success.
Heemer, a retired band director at Niles High School and Ring Lardner Middle School, was hired as energy manager when the program was implemented seven years ago.
Heemer said the area where most schools can save the most money is during the shutdown phase of the day. The shutdown phase is when students are out of the building and most of the rooms are not being used.
The most common waste of energy is when computers and lights in the classrooms are left running at the end of the school day, Heemer said.
Every week, Heemer walks though the schools after hours in an effort to catch any wasteful energy use.
Heemer said the most important thing is to make sure no lights or computers are running at night or all weekend when no one is in the building.
In that same train of thought, Heemer's busiest day of the year is the last day of school, when he goes through every school building and shuts off every non-essential device in the school, such as air handlers and air conditioners.
Air conditioning running all day during the summer months used to be one of the biggest culprits when it came to unnecessary energy being used.
Heemer also works with school administrators to make suggestion how individual buildings can increase their efficiency.
When the program first began, Heemer sat down with the head custodians of district's school buildings and laid down the initial guidelines for the program.
Energy Education Inc. offers guidelines for the program, but individual energy managers can adjust those guidelines as they see fit for their respective districts.
Heemer said the night custodians have been the biggest help to him in his job as energy manager.
To track the program's progress of how much money the district is saving, Heemer compiles all the utility bills for each month into a computer program provided by Energy Education, Inc., which then compares current spending against the base fiscal year of 1996-97.
The program also analyzes current weather conditions and adjusts the projected costs accordingly.
The results of the program were evident after Heemer's first month on the job. One of Heemer's first energy saving moves was reducing the night temperature of the boiler at Howard Elementary school.
The night time running temperature for the boiler had been set at 70 degrees fahrenheit, while the recommended setting was 59 degrees.
By lowering the night temperature of the boiler to 60 degrees in Howard School alone, the entire district saw a 20 percent savings in its heating costs.
The school district has saved an average of 25 percent in energy costs in all its buildings since the program was initiated in 1997.
While 25 percent savings is better than most other school districts, Heemer thinks there is room for improvement in the program.