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Energy-Conservation Grants Netted Substantial Savings

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A group of school districts that received federal energy-conservation grants in 1980 were able to cut energy use by an average of 20.7 percent, resulting in "higher-than-anticipated" savings for the schools, according to a recent survey.

With the help of U.S. Department of Energy grants, the 175 districts surveyed modified the heating, plumbing, and insulation in their school buildings. Although in some cases the intitial expenditures were large--the grants ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $200,000, matched by district funds--53 of the districts could project that over a 10-year period, the various energy-conservation measures would save them an average of $3.89 for each federal dollar expended, according to the survey conducted by the American Association of School Administrators (aasa).

Program Successful

The survey also pointed out that to the extent that the information on those 53 projects represents the situation in all 724 participating districts, the original costs of the structural modifications (in 1980 dollars) will be recovered in less than five years.

"The program is working," conclude the authors of the report, entitled "How the Schools and Hospitals Program Is Working."

"It is saving energy for the nation--well beyond anticipation. It is also saving money for the schools--well beyond expectation; thus, redirecting education dollars to the classroom," the authors note.

If the figures included in the survey are expanded to include all 724 districts in which energy-conservation projects were undertaken, the report says, "After the original investment costs have been recovered, the net effect for the 724 grant recipients would be a clear 'profit' to redirect $16,270,000 (1980 dollars) into the classroom every year for the life of the [energy conservation measures]."

That means, the report adds, that "over and above original costs, these energy savings for ... recipients over a 10-year [period] will contribute a 'clear profit' of $84,116,000 toward helping young people learn and/or alleviating local tax burdens."

School districts adopted a variety of measures to help cut their energy use, according to the survey. Many modified the equipment that controls energy use--dampers, thermostats, monitors, and the like, or made changes in the furnaces, boilers, and pipe or duct installation. Many also changed their source of fuel, or began to use more than one source.

Such modifications ranked second and third, respectively, in the speed with which school officials could recoup their investment.

That investment was repaid most quickly with measures in the "domestic hot water/plumbing" category, which included pumps, dishwasher boosters, thermal controls on water, water heaters, shower heads, faucet-flow meters, and related devices. However, according to the report, these measures were used less frequently than those in most of the other categories.

The 175 school districts that responded to the survey were among a total of 724 that received "energy-conservation measure" grants from the Energy Department in 1980. The grants were made through the schools and hospitals program, which is Title III of the National Energy Conservation Policy Act. The act was passed by Congress in 1978 in response to the disproportionately great impact of the "energy crisis" on schools, hospitals, and some other public buildings.

"Since school buildings are more inefficient than most, the impact per-square-foot hit education harder than other sectors," the authors note.

"Approximately 60 percent of the school buildings in use had been built when energy was cheap and plentiful and space to house the post-World War II baby boom children was especially critical," they add. "Since public schools had no way to 'raise prices' and were locked into budgets determined by third party revenue decisions, these energy sieves in the 70's became a greater energy and economic burden to education and the nation," they note.

According to a 1975 Federal Energy Administration survey, energy costs for schools rose nearly 50 percent in only two years--from $20 per pupil per year in 1973 to $29 in 1975.

'Energy Sieves'

Among the worst "energy sieves" are the ranch-style, single-story buildings that sprang up to house the baby-boom students of the 1960's, according to Shirley J. Hansen, an energy consultant in Texas who was formerly with aasa and conducted its survey. These "paper mache and tooth-pick" structures were built hastily, at low cost, with little insulation and lots of glass, she said.

A large number of school administrators now identify energy costs as being among the most serious con-cerns they face, the survey notes.

The survey was conducted during the summer of 1981, when about 80 percent of the projects were finished or nearing completion.

Consumption Compared

The researchers compared the schools' energy consumption between January and March of 1980, before the modifications were made, and the same period in 1981, after many of the measures designed to save energy had been put into effect.

The school officials were also queried on the kinds of energy-saving measures paid for with the grant, how quickly the measures were installed, and how long it would take for the amount of money saved on energy to equal the cost of the modifications--a factor described as "payback time."

The survey was conducted on projects funded during the first "funding cycle" of grants; currently, the program is in the fourth funding cycle. The original legislation authorized the program for three years. Unless a surprise budget cut occurs, the program is expected to continue, Ms. Hansen said.

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