"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Fresno County: PG&E Helps Sanger Schools Improve Energy Efficiency and Bring Science to Life

By Justine Brown

SANGER – Located 13 miles southeast of Fresno in the heart of California’s fertile San Joaquin valley, Sanger embraces its agricultural heritage, and its award-winning schools epitomize the values of innovation and hard work that helped found the area in the late 1800s.

But in 2010, budget cuts threatened to affect the quality of Sanger’s schools. Richard Sepulveda, Sanger Unified School District’s chief operations officer, was determined not to let that happen.

“We wanted to ensure our schools continued to provide quality education despite the budget cuts,” said Sepulveda. “So we started to look for ways to trim costs in areas that would not affect our teacher count or our curriculum.”

And energy efficiency was an obvious starting point.

The school district hired Kevin Edwards as its energy manager and tasked him with creating a set of energy guidelines and educating faculty and staff about energy efficiency on campus. Edwards soon realized PG&E could be a valuable ally in his efforts to improve energy efficiency at all levels of the organization. He began working closely with Cheryl Marcelli McClaine, PG&E account representative for Sanger Unified, to determine ways the district could trim costs and improve its energy conservation efforts.

“We had never had a program like this before, but with the help of PG&E, we learned about many new initiatives we could undertake to help us conserve energy and save money,” said Edwards. “Cheryl helped us identify rebates and made sure that when we planned a new project we built energy efficiency right into the plan.”

Among other things, the district deployed EnergyCAP software, which helps it track its energy usage and performance using historical data. So far, EnergyCAP has allowed the district to save $2.2 million compared to their baseline (2009 usage). EnergyCAP also helps the district make adjustments to account for things like weather and changes they make to their facilities to provide an apples to apples comparison year after year for the life of the program.

“The funds we are saving are providing books for our students and paying our teachers’ salaries,” said Sepulveda.

The district also worked with PG&E to conduct a lighting retrofit in several schools. And, over the last couple of years, Sanger Unified has constructed several new school buildings. Along the way, PG&E guided them in making energy efficient choices. The effort has paid off. In all, Sanger Unified has added a total of 100,000 feet of new school building space. Yet despite the new buildings, the district’s overall energy usage has actually dropped.

One school in the district was a particular challenge: Madison Elementary, which was built in 1956.

“Because our school was built almost 60 years ago, energy efficiency is something we are constantly concerned about,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, Madison Elementary principal. “We want to ensure we are conserving because an older facility like ours tends to be far less energy efficient than newer facilities.”

Rodriguez not only wanted to improve energy efficiency in her school, but she also wanted to make sure students understood why conservation was important. So last year, Rodriguez helped Madison Elementary win a $10,000 Bright Ideas grant from PG&E to help support the “Gallop to Green” program.  Gallop to Green is designed to help students learn about energy conservation. With the help of the PG&E grant, the program now includes an outdoor science center featuring a working solar farm.

“We installed the solar farm not only to help our school become more energy efficient, but also for educational purposes,” said Rodriguez. “Previously, none of the students had ever seen solar cells up close before. Now they can see them and learn the science behind them.”

Students monitor the solar farm via a website, where they can learn about the difference between a sunny day and a cloudy day, view the school’s overall energy usage, measure how much energy each solar cell is producing, determine what the school’s carbon offset for the day is, etc.

“They get to do some experiments and learn from it but they also get to be out there physically involved in it – that’s the really neat part,” Rodriguez said.

Gallop to Green continues in the classroom as well, where PG&E energy efficiency handouts and texts further educate students.

“Though I am charged with the task of helping my districts save energy and lower their bills, there is a greater call to educate the next generation,” said PG&E’s McClaine. “I could not be working with a greater team of folks who not only manage their facilities well, but are committed to the children they serve.”

This summer, the current library building, which is next to the outdoor solar farm, will be relocated to make room for an indoor science center. The indoor science center will further support Madison Elementary energy education and conservation efforts.

“This is a new concept for the kids – to understand the global idea of why we need to conserve energy, and how there is more than one form of energy,” said Rodriguez. “We want to foster their ingenuity and the idea that science is interesting, fun, and it’s also going to help the planet.”