Energy project is money saver

By Dick Mason, The Observer November 19, 2012 01:58 pm

UNION — The Union School District’s $370,000 energy conservation project is months from completion, but it already is yielding promising dividends.

The setting on the thermostat of Union Elementary School’s S.E. Miller gym is proof.

The school district recently had to lower the thermostat setting for the gym, which serves as a cafeteria, by two to three degrees. The step was taken to make students more comfortable.

Here is why the thermostat had to be lowered. Large amounts of insulation have been installed in the S.E. Miller Gym attic as part of the project, which started last summer. This is the first time in its five-decade history that the gym has had insulation. 

The insulation is doing such a good job of preventing heat loss that the gym’s temperature rose because its thermostat had not been adjusted to accommodate for the energy conservation work.

Turning the thermostat  down two or three degrees will save the district a significant amount of money. 

UHS Principal Carter Wells said realizing savings so early in the energy project is gratifying.

“It is exciting to get immediate feedback,’’ Wells said. 

Extensive insulation work has also been completed in the S.E. Miller building, and special vents have been installed to prevent heat from escaping. Similar work is also being conducted in the J. F. Hutchinson building of Union Elementary and should be completed soon. 

Projects at Union High School that have been finished or are near completion include the installation of thermostatically controlled louver vents in the attic. The vents will help prevent heat from being lost in the winter. The vents will automatically open in the summer when the temperature reaches too high of a level. 

This and other conservation work has been badly needed because limited energy work has been done in the past and a number of the district’s facilities are aging. Fixtures well past their prime include pipes the district uses to pump heat about 25 yards from the high school to its gym, ones which are in danger of breaking down because of their age. 

The pipes will not be needed once the energy efficiency work is done because a separate heating system for the gym will be installed as part of the project. It will be a gas-fired, forced-air heating system in the gym building. 

Presently the gym is heated by a boiler, which also heats the high school. This system is inefficient because it uses heat generated in a boiler at UHS. This heat is pumped more than 25 yards underground to the gym. So much heat escapes from the uninsulated pipes that it melts the snow and ice on the pavement above them in the winter.

Once the gas-fired forced air heating system in the high school gym is installed, the boiler at UHS will be replaced with a smaller efficient one. 

A portion of the many other energy conservation projects to be completed over the next several months include the:

• installation of a new hot water system in the high school gym and low-flow shower heads in the locker rooms.

• installation of a new high-efficiency water heater in the S.E. Miller building.

• installation of weatherstripping where needed on the campus.

• the updating of temperature controls in the S.E. Miller and Hutchinson buildings. 

 • the retrofitting of exterior and interior lighting fixtures. 

The work is being financed by the Cool Schools program the Legislature created in 2011. It likely will not cost the district any money over the long term in part because it will save the district about $31,000 a year in energy, operation and maintenance costs, said Beth Stewart, a member of the Union School Board. Stewart has played a major role in getting the Union energy conservation project started. 

About $100,000 of the $370,000 of work being done in the Union School District is being funded by tax credits. Schools, of course, do not pay taxes, but school districts in the Cool Schools program are eligible for tax credits, which would pay about 35 percent of their energy project costs. These tax credits are sold to businesses or individuals who pay districts 92 percent of what they are worth.

The Union energy conservation project will also receive $38,000 from Avista Utilities and $7,000 from Oregon Trail Electric in energy conservation incentives. 

This money combined with the $100,000 from the tax credits will leave the Union School District with $225,000 to pay. This will be paid via a low interest loan provided by the Oregon Department of Energy. The interest rate for the loan will be 2.5 percent.

Since money from the tax credits and Avista and OTEC will not be received until after the work is done, the loan the district received from the Oregon Department of Energy was $370,000 and not $225,000. This loan will be paid down to $225,000 once money from the tax credits and Avista and OTEC energy incentives is received.

Should the district pay an interest rate of 3 percent, the initial loan payments, set to be paid over 15 years, would be $30,600 a year. The loan payments will be reduced significantly or the length of the payment period will be shortened once it is paid down to $225,000.  

Four companies were awarded contracts for the project this fall: Pioneer Plumbing & Heating of Halfway, D & T Johnson Electric of La Grande, Home Insulation & Associates of Pendleton and Thews Sheet Metal of Pendleton.

The work being done by these contractors is being overseen by Jack Aldrich, who is in charge of maintenance operations in the school district. 

“Jack is doing an excellent job managing the project and working directly with the contractors,’’ Stewart said. 

Wells concurs, adding that Aldrich, who has worked for the district at least two decades, has a wealth of knowledge about the facilities, which nobody can match.

“He is amazing,’’ Wells said. 

Another key player in the energy conservation project is School District Clerk Mendy Clark. Stewart credits Clark with doing an excellent job of handling the extensive paperwork connected with the project, accepting bids, writing contracts and more.