Manchester High, which is the largest school (and public building) in town at 392,290 square feet, consumes about $30,000 in electricity each month, part of the district’s $2 million in annual energy spending.
CHAPTER 2: FROM RED TO BLACK FROM GREEN
By Jim Farrell
Karen Clancy’s utility bills are higher than yours or mine.
An assistant superintendent who oversees finances for the Manchester Public Schools system, Clancy each month gets more than 20 separate Eversource electric bills for sites around the district. She gets almost as many monthly bills from Connecticut Natural Gas.
“"I've been at this a long time but am still surprised at how much money is spent on energy,” said Clancy, noting that the district has budgeted more than $2 million for utility costs in the current fiscal year.
One site alone -- Manchester High, which is the largest school (and public building) in town at 392,290 square feet -- consumes about $30,000 in electricity every month and another $6,000 or so in natural gas. MHS is actually billed three times each month by Eversource, with the pool area running a tab of $784.49 from last April 30-May 28, while the football field area went through $2,231.82 and the rest of the building a whopping $28,667.66 (for 186,314 kilowatt hours).
Compare those numbers to a typical Manchester homeowner (like me): I dug up a recent monthly Eversource bill that totaled $137.95 to cover the cost and delivery of 571 kWh.
Even the smallest schools (like Highland Park, at 41,000 square feet) are 20 times larger than a typical single home, which gives the district’s staggering utility spending some perspective. And town buildings, especially old and highly-used sites like Mary Cheney Library, have an equally insatiable appetite for energy.
All of which, says Clancy, “makes it so exciting to think about the potential for significant savings as our buildings become more efficient.”
As anyone obsessed with turning off lights when they leave a room knows, saving energy doesn’t have to cost you anything -- but committing resources to audits, efficiency upgrades and more can pay huge dividends and Manchester is making substantial investments at a time of unprecedented incentives from both private and public partners.
Work is or will soon be under way at 16 town or school buildings as part of a comprehensive campaign that will include the installation of thousands of LED lighting fixtures to make sites more efficient (and thus use less energy) while eight buildings will have thousands of photovoltaic panels installed on the roof to create energy in the form of solar power.
And that’s not to mention (well, until now) the renovation of Buckley Elementary to net zero energy, meaning the total amount of energy used there will equal to the amount of renewable energy generated there -- a first for a Connecticut public school.
There is no other community in the state doing as much, in so many ways and all at the same time in pursuit of energy efficiency and it’s the result of years of work, lobbying and advocacy by too many people to name -- although we will here cite a notable three:
For starters, there’s Chris Till, who has been the town's Facilities Manager since 2008 and is responsible for planning, developing, and directing capital construction and renovation projects as well as maintenance, repair and more for both Town and Board of Education properties. He has degrees from Tufts University (civil engineering) and the University of Michigan (environmental and water resource engineering) and experience that includes work in the private sector and as a consultant.
He also has a crowded calendar and never-ending to-do list as he strives to coordinate the work of literally dozens of partners big and small, doing his best to ensure that schedules are aligned, contracts signed, deadlines and budgets met.
“It’s like I’m a point guard in basketball,” Chris said, “making sure I know where everybody is and what everyone is supposed to be doing.”
There’s an incredible amount of information that needs to be processed and then shared between dozens of personnel from all the stakeholders within and outside the Manchester government.
“Aside from the major multi-million dollar school renovations, there are always a dozen or more projects at the various stages,” Till noted, referring to design, construction/implementation and closeout, “and all of it is critical to maintaining Manchester's buildings."
Next there’s Gene DeJoannis, who’s lived in town since 1975 and is retired now after a career with an engineering firm in Farmington. His role there included helping design buildings that were exceptionally energy efficient. Gene has degrees from Manhattan College (electrical engineering) and the University of Hartford (mechanical engineering) and is co-chair of the Manchester Sustainability Commission, which started as a task force created by the Board of Directors in January 2019 seeking recommended environmental and sustainability actions for the town.
I first connected with Gene earlier this year when he sent me, in my capacity as the school district's communication director, a long letter about all things energy. It covered plans for Buckley (he was the first and most vocal champion that it be renovated to net zero energy) and school buses (the state has set a goal that 30 percent be electric by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050) and the R-value of school roofs (specifically citing upcoming work at MHS and the importance of high-quality insulation).
Gene is an incredible resource (after interviewing him for this project he sent me a list of six separate newsletters, websites, webinars and such that he regularly tracks and thought I might want to). He and the Sustainability Commission -- which includes other residents, elected officials, and town employees -- are a force helping drive the town’s work. We will cover their role in depth in a later chapter but for now focus on one crucial recommendation the commission made, that the town hire a deputy director of Public Works specifically for sustainability and materials management.
That newly created position has been filled since last November by Courtney Lindberg, who had been the National Business Development Manager for Energy and Sustainability at a Los Angeles-based consulting firm and before that the Supervisor of the Environmental Sustainability division in Ventura, Calif.
Courtney has a lot of responsibilities but her primary goal is to color Manchester green and her career, travels and education (she has degrees in communications from the University of Rhode Island and environmental science from Oregon State University) have given her insights of all sorts into the world of sustainability.
“At first glance, people typically want to see a financial incentive for incorporating sustainability into projects,” she said, noting that it usually takes an economic argument to get the attention of policy makers and others to drive change. “But it’s really a triple bottom line.” That is, there are environmental and social benefits in addition to financial ones.
Let’s stick with money for now, though, and use kitchen-table estimates to look at what kind of money the town is spending on energy efficiency initiatives and what kind of savings it might accrue.
In June 2019, residents approved through referendum a $93 million package that included $81 million to renovate Buckley and two other elementary schools (Bowers and Keeney), with town officials bumping up projected construction costs by 5 percent to reach that NZE target.
Local taxpayers are expected to be responsible for $47 million of the total cost after state reimbursement and other factors that include Eversource’s Energy Conscious Blueprint program, which offers incentives to offset costs for energy modeling and installing more efficient equipment. For our purposes, though, let’s say that local taxpayers are responsible for about $3.8 million in ‘additional’ costs directly tied to the net-zero work.
As for the work at 18 other public buildings around town:
In the spring, the town hired Loureiro Engineering of Plainville to conduct an extensive energy audit in schools and municipal buildings. This work cost $84,000, with $63,850 paid by Eversource as part of another incentive program (this one called Energy Opportunities) and the town covering the balance. Till said that the report tracking this project is a ‘living document’ that he expects to update as recommendations are completed and noted that energy conservation measures (ECMs) that can't be completed in 2021 will roll into future capital plan budgets.
The Loureiro audit prompted the lighting upgrades that will be done by Prism Energy (based in Quincy, Mass.) in the schools and by Earthlight Technologies (based in Ellington) in town buildings. (Two vendors are involved because there is so much work to be done in a compressed time frame.)
The lighting work is expected to cost about $3 million with the Energy Opportunities program helping defray about $1.5 million of the installation costs by achieving what’s considered Comprehensive Status.
Prism is also handling the non-lighting upgrades (HVAC leaks etc.) in both town and school buildings at a cost of between $300,000 and $500,000. Some of these ECMs provide savings of natural gas in addition to electrical savings. (AVANGRID, the parent of CNG, is a partner with Eversource to reduce the total energy footprint of buildings in Manchester.)
The project that will put panels atop eight buildings is coordinated by the Connecticut Green Bank, which for the past 10 years has been working with municipalities to access renewable energy and achieve energy savings. As with so much of what else is going on, we’ll break down their Solar MAP (Municipal Assistance Program) in a later chapter but for now just point out that in return for a commitment to buy its power at a reduced rate, this project is not costing Manchester anything.
So taken together and with the caveat that this accounting is super-simplified, the case can be made that the town is investing a little more than $5.5 million in these energy efficiency initiatives.
And what are the projected savings?
The switch to LED lighting alone is expected to save about $350,000 a year or about $7 million over 20 years. The HVAC etc. upgrades will bump those savings up even more.
Solar MAP is projected to save about $150,000 annually or about $3 million over 20 years.
Figure the annual energy savings at Buckley at about $100,000 per year and that’s another $2 million over 20 years, with comparable savings projected for Bowers and Keeney, which are also slated to be net zero energy when they are renovated.
It’s quickly clear that over time the projected savings far exceed the investment.
“But by how much is impossible to say because there are so many variables,” said Till, citing as one obvious example the fact that energy costs fluctuate so much.
It’s also impossible to isolate just how much each particular modification will affect energy use. For example, at MHS, there will be 2,924 solar panels put on the roof, with hundreds of LED light fixtures installed as well, and also work done throughout to upgrade heating and cooling systems, with each project funded separately but contributing to a better bottom line.
There are systems and metrics used to compare the efficiency of buildings over time and they will be valuable and provide an important accounting as years pass.
One such measure is called EUI, which stands for Energy Use Intensity and is a standardized formula that provides the means to equalize the way that energy use is compared between various types of buildings
EUI is calculated by dividing the total energy consumed by a building -- be it by electricity, natural gas or what have you -- in one year by the total gross floor area of the building.
The amount of energy that’s been consumed is done by calculating kBtus, which stands for one-thousand British thermal units-- a Btu being the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.
Like other such classic standardized measurements -- for example, miles per gallon or the cost-of-living index -- the EUI is just a baseline but can be ‘normalized’ by weather and region. It also varies significantly by, say, building type. The EUI in hospitals is typically 400 to 500 kBtu/sf per year, because of factors that include the high energy demand of interior lighting and hospital equipment. By contrast, the average self-storage warehouse is about 20.
Public K-12 schools have an average EUI of 48.5 and Buckley before closing was at 72.
Stats like EUI will reveal in a granular way the impact of various interventions but, back to the big picture, it’s clear that Manchester’s financial investments will pay for themselves many times over.
Lindberg noted that Manchester is taking a proactive leadership role in the state and greater New England “to make the conscious decision to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.” She credited the Board of Directors, Board of Education, Sustainability Commission, Town staff, and residents for supporting the shift, adding: “although the transition away from fossil fuels and toward a renewable energy future takes time and money, the progress we are making cannot be overemphasized.”
“Schools last a long time, so the extra care we take now will pay dividends for many years,” he said, noting that children will be learning about climate change in buildings that are not contributing to the problem, but instead are a daily example of how we can avoid making it worse.
“Perhaps their school building will inspire them to reduce the damage we have done to our planet,” he said, “and help restore it to a safe balance between our carbon emissions and what our air, earth and oceans can safely absorb.”
DeJoannis lives near Buckley and often walks past the school and then further down Vernon Street, and because he says he knows he’ll come across litter during his walk he carries a pick-up tool and two cloth shopping bags, one for trash and one for recyclables.
It feels good, he says, to do his small part by picking up trash, just as it feels good to know he had a role in the town’s decision to renovate Buckley to net-zero energy. He likes to stop at the construction site and watch as demolition goes on and renovation begins.
“Buckley School,” he said. “That’s my baby.”
About this series: Buckley Elementary School in Manchester is being renovated to ‘net zero energy’, a project that is expected to take about 14 months (from ground-breaking to ribbon cutting) and during that time there are a series of other ambitious sustainability projects underway in public buildings throughout town. Jim Farrell, who is the school district’s communications director and a former career journalist with The Hartford Courant, is writing about the work in monthly (or maybe more) installments. To read Chapter 3 please click here.