Putting money back into Minnesota schools’ budgets

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Public schools across Minnesota will be learning more about their energy use—and identifying new strategies for conservation and savings—thanks to a new law secured during the 2019 legislative session with leadership from Fresh Energy and bill authors Senator Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing) and Representative Shelly Christensen (D-Stillwater).

From Albert Lea to Elk River, schools have used a process known as “benchmarking” as a path toward saving millions of dollars in energy costs. Now, all public schools in Minnesota will be required to do so, which will help schools officials prioritize energy savings and put more taxpayer dollars into the classroom, rather than wasted on higher than necessary energy bills.

Minnesota has an existing tool, known as the B3 online energy portfolio, that allows schools to track their progress, compare peers, and use building energy data to improve performance and save money. Prior to the bill, 204 school districts around the state have tracked their energy use with this software that is free for schools. Among the schools benchmarking already, the B3 software identifies over $10 million in cost savings around the state. With this new legislation, we will uncover even more opportunities for energy savings statewide.

The benefits from benchmarking come in two forms. We know school administrators and facilities managers are busy keeping schools running. However, benchmarking in the commercial sector has taught us that just looking at our energy data month reduces energy usage by about 7%. Looking at energy usage helps identify when equipment is not working property. Much of the energy savings comes from tweaking mechanical equipment that isn’t working properly at no cost.

Additionally, this new law will help schools target which energy saving capital investments would most cost effectively reduce schools’ utilities bills. For example, this software can answer “will investing in upgraded lighting or heating system can a greater impact on my schools’ utility bills?”

Many Minnesota schools have already saved vital resources by benchmarking their buildings:

  • Albert Lea Area Schools have been benchmarking for 10 years and saved over $3 million.
  • Elk River Public Schools: more than 8 percent energy reduction district-wide and anticipated annual operational savings exceeding $500,000.
  • North St. Paul Maplewood Oakdale Public Schools: Energy reduction of more than 6 percent district wide and anticipated annual operational savings exceeding $250,000.
  • Westonka Public Schools: Energy reduction of more than 7 percent district wide and anticipated annual operational savings exceeding $90,000.
  • Hutchinson Public Schools: Energy reduction of more than 20 percent district wide and anticipated annual operational savings exceeding $175,000.

B3 benchmarking also provides an opportunity for teaching student about energy data. Through the YES program, students at schools who already benchmark can enter all the data and look at energy and cost trends over time. This introduces students to clean energy careers, one of the fastest growing areas in our economy.

Final legislation was passed during the 2019 session as part of the Education Omnibus bill. Special thanks to committee chairs Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Representative Jim Davnie (D-Minneapolis) and Representative Cheryl Youakim (D-Hopkins) for ensuring inclusion of this forward-looking policy solution. This legislation is good for schools, good for students and good for taxpayers. Stay tuned for more stories about schools saving energy, and resources, through the program.