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

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Fresno: PG&E-Sponsored Workshop Shows Schools How to Use State Funds for Energy Efficiency

By Tracy Correa

FRESNO – Tonja Griggs wasn’t sure how to begin using $100,000 in state funding to help her small school district in rural Fresno County become more energy efficient, but she has a much better idea after attending a workshop on Wednesday (Dec. 5).

Griggs, chief business officer and finance secretary at Burrel Union Elementary School District, was one of 70 school officials who took part in a Proposition 39 funding workshop in Fresno co-sponsored by PG&E and the Fresno County Office of Education.

About 70 people attended a workshop Wednesday on how to utilize funding under Prop. 39 for energy efficient upgrades at schools. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

About $550 million a year has become available to schools under the California Clean Energy Jobs Act. The funds support energy efficiency and alternative energy projects in public K-12 schools and community colleges. But figuring out where to begin is a daunting task for many districts, even those which qualify for millions.

The workshop – which touched on how to hire the right vendors to sharing best practices and pooling resources – was a huge help to Briggs who works for a small district that does not include an in-house energy manager like some larger districts. “We’re small potatoes,” she said. “It was helpful to come here, share ideas and network.”

Burrel is a one-school, K-8 district with 126 students from mostly poor, farm worker families. The school has a small staff operating on a tight budget.

With the additional state funding, Griggs said the district hopes to upgrade the air conditioning unit that broke down over the summer and possibly add to a 1-killowatt solar system.

‘We all want to support schools’

The workshop was intended to help guide school leaders. Schools were encouraged to prioritize their proposed projects as recommended by the state.

“We’re really here because we all want to support schools,” PG&E’s Joey Barr, a senior program manager, told those at the workshop. Barr is working closely with schools as they move forward under Proposition 39.

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea was the keynote speaker at a Prop. 39 funding workshop sponsored by PG&E and the Fresno County Office of Education.

The event featured guest speakers, including keynote speaker State Assembly Member Henry T. Perea from Fresno who talked about the importance of putting taxpayer money back into schools following years of cuts to education.

Perea said that after staffing costs, energy is the next highest expenditure for schools and making schools energy-efficient helps everyone. “These are dollars saved that can be spent in classrooms, on students, in after-school activities,” he said.

School districts already successful with energy-efficient upgrades shared their knowledge and experience at the workshop.

Stuart Ogren, who oversees energy management at Clovis Unified School District, talked about how his district decreased energy usage with energy-efficient upgrades and by changing the behavior of staff. Simple things, he said, like reminding staff to turn off lights and equipment after hours has helped. And no longer are his gym lights running 18 hours a day now that motion lights have been installed.

A school official from Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District talked about changes at his district, including motion-activated hand dryers instead of paper towels in school bathrooms. The district has saved $234,000, said David Darlington, Livermore’s Valley’s energy manager. “And it cost us $50,000.”

Information is critical

Jim Yovino, Fresno County schools superintendent, said arming schools with information is critical when so much funding is at stake.

“We are committed to helping schools be more energy efficient and maximize the benefits of Proposition 39. Partnering with PG&E ensures that participants will leave well-informed, educated and ready to move forward with energy-saving solutions and strategies,” he said.

Burrel Union Elementary School District, a small, 126-student district in Fresno County, is looking forward to energy upgrades to help save money.

PG&E’s Cheryl Marcelli-McClaine, a customer relationship manager in energy solutions and service in Fresno, told attendees that PG&E representatives are available and want to help. “Don’t think you can’t do this, because you can. That’s why we’re all here.”

Griggs said she feels better about moving forward.

“This makes me feel more comfortable to know that there are resources and people that I can go to for help,” she said.

For more information on energy efficiency in schools click here.

E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.