Slideshow: Green Attitude
San Diego's High
Saving Energy in the Public Schools
San Diego Walks the Talk
by Barbara Crane
More than 150
years after San Diego opened its first public school-a one-room
schoolhouse still standing in the city's historic Old Town-the San Diego
Unified School District (SDUSD)
began a program nearly as momentous. In 1997, the school board made a
commitment to implementing energy efficiency measures, enabling SDUSD to
cut its utility bills in half within four years. Earlier this year the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the district 2007
Energy Star Partner of the Year for its
outstanding energy management and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
"I consider it one of the most important things I was part of while I've
been sitting on the board," says John de Beck, a retired teacher who has
served on the San Diego Unified School District
Board of Education since 1990. "Ten years
later, I'm still proud that we did it. We were among the first school
districts in the nation to make energy efficiency a district policy."
The SDUSD is the second largest school district in California, with over
132,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Within a little over 200 square miles, the district's 216 educational
facilities encompass long-established beach communities, urban downtown
and mid-town neighborhoods, middle-class housing tracts and ranches in the
city's eastern reaches. Ethnically, a little over 40 percent of the
students are Hispanic, one-quarter are Caucasian and 14 percent are
African American. Filipino, Southeast Asian and Asian students comprise
approximately 16 percent of the district's population.
The SDUSD began its efforts at the prompting of a consultant who told the
board that energy efficiency measures could both save money and enhance
learning. Inspired by the consultant's plan and
Diego Gas & Electric's energy efficiency incentives, the board
authorized $42 million in certificates of participation (a kind of bond
that allows public entities to borrow money against projected savings to
be repaid by the district) in 12 years.
measures produced enough energy savings to pay back the bonds and initiate
new savings," says De Beck. In fact, the district was able to pay off the
bonds in eight years instead of 12.
The plan established a permanent energy/utility management section within
the district. J. William Naish, the section's coordinator, has been with
the district since 1997 – investigating the best methods to achieve energy
efficiency; working with the school district, utility companies and other
stakeholders; and monitoring results.
Over the past 10 years, the district has decreased energy usage by 40
percent with occupancy sensors, a global lighting control system,
efficient lighting, cool curtains, reengineered HVAC systems and more.
Although many credit Naish for the district's achievements, he says,
"There are a lot of challenges to doing this. You don't always have board
members who will allow you to do these things and facilities managers that
will carry through. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time
with some really smart people."
Some of the district's energy efficiency initiatives appear to be obvious
choices, while others challenge conventional thinking. In the former
category, one of the district's first steps was to install occupancy
sensors, which turn lights, heat and air conditioning on when a space is
occupied and turn them off when it's empty. These paid for themselves
within seven months of operation.
As another example, the energy/utility management office audited the
district's school site refrigerators and found that each refrigerator cost
the district $30/$40 per month to operate. "We bought 1,000 new
refrigerators that were Energy Star energy rated through a San Diego Gas &
Electric incentives program that offered a $275 rebate per refrigerator
for schools," Naish says. "We paid about $525 for each refrigerator
because we bought so many at one time." This reduced the net cost to $250
per refrigerator. Now, he says, "each refrigerator costs only $50 a year
to operate. Plus the maintenance people can fix any refrigerator in the
district with the same kind of compressor."
A photovoltaic roofing project shows the district at its cutting edge
best. Several years ago, when Californians were subject to rolling
blackouts, the SDUSD wanted to find a reliable, predictable and manageable
way to control electricity budgets without spending any money out of
pocket. The solution: the district is leasing photovoltaic roofs for 40
Solar Integrated Technologies and
Southern California Roofing, a project funded by
Electric. The vendors install and maintain the roofs for 20
years with little or no cost to the district, and a potential savings of
more than $37 million over the 20-year life of the program.
As of January 1, 2007, 24 sites were installed and operational. Naish
says, "We were spending $3 to $4 million a year on new roofs and repairs.
Now the vendor is responsible for most of those costs, because of federal
tax law obligations as well as roles and responsibilities the district
wrote into the contract. We can use the money for other things; we buy our
electricity [from Solar Integrated Technologies] at a fixed rate for 20
years, plus we are generating electricity on-site that is being used in
These actions by the district to address environmental concerns are tied
back to the classroom. The original certificate of participation funded
the salary of a part-time teacher who writes curriculum and newsletters
for classroom use. Naish says, "A fair amount of the time when we send
people out to schools to do a re-lighting program, or change out the
chillers, or add occupancy sensors, we make sure the science teachers and
administrators are engaged. We make presentations to staff meetings and
students to let them know what's going on and how we're saving money and
"We're [connected] to the thought process of our district in saying, ‘We
can do more than what we're doing now,'" says Jon Karanopoulous, an
automotive teacher at the
School of Science and Technology at San
Diego High. He is one of many teachers who have introduced "green"
curricula to the classroom.
Using a biodiesel processor he fabricated with help from interested
community members, Karanapoulous has his class make biodiesel fuel with
cooking oil from district cafeterias. "The district has to pay other
people to pick up and dispose the oil. By collecting it, we provide a
service and reduce costs," he says. "Trucks that deliver food are to the
cafeteria are powered by the biodiesel fuel that we're making. The
by-product is a glycerin mass, which can be used as part of mulch by a
green gardening class."
Karanapoulous' students, most of whom live in a working class neighborhood
on the edge of downtown San Diego, shared their results with graduate
students at the University of California, San Diego, and chemists at
Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals in La
Jolla. "I do these projects with the hope that some of our kids will take
on it as a passion," he says.
Funding for SDUSD's energy initiatives has come from various sources. The
initial SDG&E certificates of participation jump-started the program.
Savings on energy costs were used to pay back the bonds and cover the cost
of new technology. The district also qualified for reimbursement for new
energy-saving equipment, such as the Energy Star refrigerators. "Some
money comes from our maintenance budget, if the payback is relatively
good," Naish says. "We have also been reasonably successful in acquiring
Next on the agenda are site-based funding initiatives that will make
schools responsible for utility consumption. If a school is able to reduce
its utility bills over a year, it will be allowed to use
one-half of the
savings for almost anything it chooses the following year. (The
retains the other half to fund the program and return to the general
In a beta program last year, 30
participating schools cut their utility bills by $800,000 when teachers
and students did such simple things as closing the doors when the air
conditioning was on.
"This is the second phase," Naish says. "First are the technology-based
initiatives. Second is changing people's habits."