Project yields 43% reduction in energy use

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The new boiler system at Flathead High School was part of district-wide energy savings projects that have reduced utility costs. (Hilary Matheson/Daily Inter Lake)

With a few light bulbs left to be changed, Kalispell Public Schools wraps up roughly $4 million in energy-saving projects that began in 2013 and resulted in reduced electrical, heating and water usage, even with the district expanding its footprint.

Recently, the district switched out approximately 29,000 fluorescent and halogen bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs. The result of the switch has been a 43% reduction in energy usage across the district.

Overall, energy projects were completed in 13 facilities and some of the projects encompassed lighting control upgrades; water efficiency retrofits; heating, ventilation and cooling improvements; boiler and domestic hot water heater replacements, among others items.

The projects were divided into five phases. The first phase alone resulted in a reduction of the district’s natural gas usage by nearly 15%; electrical usage by more than18%; electrical demand usage by 13% and water usage, excluding irrigation, by 21%.   

Projects were funded through zero-interest U.S. Department of Education Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, grants, rebates and some district funds. The projects are meant to be budget-neutral, meaning that over time they will pay for themselves through energy savings, which the U.S. Department of Energy calls “energy performance contracting.”

Overseeing projects was Ameresco, an energy services company, which outlined guaranteed savings for the district in the initial first three years.

So far, the district has seen financial savings above Ameresco’s 2013 estimates, according to Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau.

“The average annual energy savings since initial project completion have been $146,595,” Flatau said.

The impetus for starting the energy savings projects in 2013 was finding alternatives, where levy requests had failed, to fund repairs to aging infrastructure from a list of priorities. Topping that list was Flathead High School — namely the boilers and heating/ventilation systems. The school underwent conversion from a steam to hot water boiler system.

About $2.5 million of the overall budget went to Flathead, which replaced both priority items and relocated the boiler room as part of an addition and renovation project that was funded though a high school district bond issue voters approved in 2016.

“When Ameresco began working with the district, we were looking for a way to pay for upgrades to our heating and cooling systems as well as increasing energy-efficiency, but not impact our taxpayers,” Flatau said. “Flathead High School was of particular concern with classrooms either too warm, too cold, or water leaking in through the roof. The district considered ESPC (energy performance contracting) as an innovative way to accomplish some of the building upgrades that needed to be done without impacting taxpayers.

“Ameresco was able to make these improvements with this budget-neutral approach and has continued to find projects that save energy as well as provide the capital needed for implementation.” Flatau said.

Kalispell Middle School also underwent a steam to hot water boiler system conversion with additional boilers installed for redundancy. The project reduced the middle school’s gas usage by 16%.

In addition to energy, the district began looking at printing and paper costs during the last school year. As a result, a more than $30,000 savings in print and paper use last year was realized, according to the district.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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