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New York City Public Schools Save Millions by Embracing Energy Efficiency

At least one public school district in New York City already has a simple plan for fighting high energy costs this fall.

As its first line of defense against high energy bills, Mount Sinai School District on Long Island says it leaves simple yellow Post-it notes with the message “When not in use, turn off the juice” on classroom computers, printers and air conditioners. The district says the tactic saves them $350,000 annually on utility bills.

The district appointed assistant high school principal Chris Heil to police hallways and classrooms to root out energy waste one offender at a time. Heil inspects 100 classrooms a day and uses the Post-it note “tickets” as a way to change teacher behavior and encourage compliance with district energy policy.

Heil sometimes shows up at 4 a.m. to make sure custodial staff turned off the lights and goes through storage closets to locate switches that shut down rooftop exhaust fans that run continuously. According to Heil, that single-minded attention to efficiency has cut the district’s utility costs 30 percent since 2007.

But Mount Sinai isn’t the only school district in New York City that has embraced energy efficiency to reduce monthly costs. In fact, energy consumption by the city’s 1,245 school buildings has decreased by 11 percent since 2008, spurred by soaring energy costs, tighter budgets and the desire to practice the environmentally friendly principals that they teach their students.

In Yonkers, energy efficiency policies have provided dramatic relief from shrinking budgets. By working with its schools to save energy, the Westchester County School District was able to finance $18 million in new boilers, windows and other capital improvements that it wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford. At Lincoln High School, its 60-year-old boilers had been burning 137,500 gallons of heating oil a year. The new, more efficient boilers burn just 80,000 gallons.

The city is also providing some incentives. Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded $100,000 to schools that voluntarily cut their energy use during a month-long competition in May. The competition was part of the administration’s campaign to reduce the municipal government’s energy use and carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2017.

With the help of energy consultants, New York City school officials are evaluating every detail of their operations, including things like regulating the temperature of swimming pools to replacing inefficient cafeteria ovens with energy efficient models. On Long Island, for example, 60 of the 125 districts have committed to reducing energy use by 20 percent to 40 percent annually. The push for energy efficiency is so extensive that energy consultants Johnson Controls, Trane and Energy Education reported that their school business had grown at least a third since 2006.

The energy efficiency drive by New York City school districts has also spread next door to New Jersey. Since 2009, the schools in Holmdel Township have decreased their electric and gas bills by half to about $1 million annually, representing a savings of 3.5 million kilowatts and 240,000 therms.

William Balicki, Holmdel’s energy manager, said he was able to achieve such savings by strictly regulating thermostats and installing automatic timers on outdoor lights in school parking lots and district bus yards that had previously stayed on long after drivers left. Although Balicki considered installing motion sensors on classroom lights, he opted instead for $75 worth of stickers that he could post above light switches to remind teachers to turn them off.

To people like Heil and Balicki, who are on the front lines of the energy efficiency crusade, Post-it notes and stickers go a long way to preventing energy waste. They see people’s behavior as the root cause of energy inefficiency and, therefore, people must be the ones responsible for fixing the problem. “Anytime we can ask people to physically [save energy], we do,” Balicki said. “This is pretty much a people-based program. It’s changing behavior.”


With Post-Its and Checklists, Schools Cut Their Energy Bills, The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011.

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