Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 | 2:02 a.m.
Jackie Efros uses state-of-the-art technology to teach her sixth-graders in science classes at Schofield Middle School. When a student asks a question, Efros doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, she hands the student an iPad. The student does the research and finds the answer.
Her students and thousands of others in the Clark County School District, the nation’s fifth-largest, are able to use cutting-edge technology thanks to energy efficiency programs that have conserved energy and returned part of those savings to the classroom in the form of teaching aids, such as iPads.
The iPad and Schofield are a microcosm of what’s happening within the School District, which is serious about lowering energy bills at its 357 schools and 40 administrative offices. The School District worked collaboratively with NV Energy and its contractor, Clearesult, to switch 365,000 light fixtures in 152 of the oldest schools to more efficient ones. From the energy savings in fiscal 2012, the School District earned $791,000 in utility rebates for reduced electricity. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in cash savings.
The district saved $10,000 per day — $2.3 million a year — on its enormous $40 million annual utility bill. The savings boost a depleted general fund and literally keep the lights on in some of the district’s cash-strapped classrooms.
There are other important benefits. Andy DuMond, program manager for Clearesult and project manager of the lighting retrofit, said the district would save maintenance dollars since staff won’t have to change out lighting fixtures in the retrofitted schools for 10 years. The new lights don’t generate as much heat as conventional bulbs, so air conditioning costs are reduced, he noted. And though kids in Jackie Efros’ science class — engrossed as they are in learning — won’t notice it, the new lighting has a better color rendering to improve the learning environment in their classroom.
The district made these improvements because it had the engineering and financial support of NV Energy throughout the enormous project, and it had that support because of Public Utilities Commission of Nevada approval of funding for energy efficiency programs.
The commission will deliberate future funding for all NV Energy efficiency programs in the next few weeks and should take the School District’s story to heart.
Efficiency is the most affordable, cleanest and most reliable source of energy that utilities can develop, according to a recent report issued by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Though the people who benefit most are those who participate in utility efficiency programs, as the School District did, ultimately everyone wins. Maximum investments in energy efficiency made now can offset the need for new and much more expensive power plants later, and this helps keep energy costs affordable for everyone — schools, homeowners, businesses and government agencies — over the long term.
The commission should fund most energy efficiency programs at the maximum level proposed by NV Energy. That includes the very popular Sure Bet Commercial retrofit program that has run out of funding mid-year for the past two years. It includes the Nonprofit Agency Grants Program, which at maximum funding could help an additional 10 agencies save $106,000 — every dollar of which can be returned to important social assistance programs in Nevada. And it includes Residential Lighting and Consumer Electronics programs that reach the greatest number of households and increase customer participation in the full portfolio of efficiency programs.
After expenses, the utility’s documents say maximum funding for these energy efficiency programs would save their customers $187.3 million. That’s a very real — and large — amount of savings that people will spend on housing, food, entertainment and retail items that help boost our economy.
The commission is expected to consider the funding issue at its meeting Thursday. It should take this opportunity to play Santa for Nevada’s energy consumers and fund fully cost-effective efficiency programs that benefit both the environment and the bottom line of Southern Nevadans.
Debra March is a member of the Henderson City Council and has championed the city’s sustainability measures.