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Conservation Story

Great Ideas / Great Partnerships / Great Synergy

by Tony Sparks, Albuquerque Public Schools

From the moment I first heard of the good things going on with Kentucky schools – through a D.O.E. webinar presentation by Greg Guess in June 2013 – I knew I wanted to learn more.  I heard there were Energy Managers assigned to each school district throughout the state, and that one of their primary roles was to engage the students at each school in the process of conservation.  I heard there were Net-Zero and Net-Zero-Ready schools, not only on paper, but in real life!  Most importantly, there seemed to be a can-do attitude in Kentucky that fearlessly challenged convention, resulting in some of the best-performing school facilities in the nation.

The fact that The NEED Project held its national conference in Albuquerque a few weeks later, allowing me the opportunity to meet Karen Reagor,  was more than serendipitous . . . it was destined.  She told me about the annual High Performance Sustainable Schools Workshop, and casually suggested I visit sometime.

Well, that was all I needed.  I took Karen up on her offer.  And that decision put into motion a whirlwind of events that has helped Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) organize and implement a comprehensive, District-wide water and energy management plan.

APS is one of the largest school districts in the nation, with 13 high schools and more than 140 public school campuses.  It is a challenge to even know what’s going on at every site, let alone to standardize, monitor, or apply incremental changes to improve each facility’s performance.  Based on the model I observed in Kentucky -- with synergistic partnerships between entities like DEDI, KSBA, SEMP, The NEED Project, architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers, and the all-important student energy teams in the schools themselves -- APS began crafting our own version of an infrastructure that will lead us to real, measurable efficiency and sustainability.

Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far:  We formed a standing committee called WECC (Water and Energy Conservation Committee), comprised of high-level thinkers and decision-makers that can do more than talk about the issues.  It includes representatives from all three utility providers (gas, water, electric); APS Executive Directors from IT, Facilities Design & Construction, Maintenance & Operations, and the Capital Master Plan; our District CFO, CIO, and COO; Associate Superintendent; APS staff architect and staff engineer; managers of the Electrical and HVAC Departments; and community leaders from private industry and trade associations.  The committee chair is the Energy Program Manager for the State’s Energy Conservation & Management Division.

WECC’s first task was getting the APS Board of Education to adopt a policy requiring a 20% reduction in District-wide water and energy use over the next ten years.  This policy was ratified in October, giving us support from the top, access to resources, and real ‘teeth’ to require changes at the facility level.  Next was creating the network of positions required to effectively carry out our plan.  This involved creating new permanent jobs within APS, as well as re-structuring/re-assigning certain existing positions.  An accomplished Energy Management consultant was hired to oversee the entire process.

Now WECC has mobilized into four separate teams to come up with specific plans of action around water and energy conservation.  They are:  1) the Design & Construction Team; 2) the Maintenance & Operations Team; 3) the End User Habits & Culture Team; and 4) the Reporting & Marketing Team.  Each group uses ideas quelled from lessons learned at home, as well as case studies from Kentucky and beyond, to come up with optimal solutions for sustainability within Albuquerque Public Schools.

Already we’ve added these strategies:

  • AIM Database – APS had a software engineer develop a custom database to automatically capture and store all our utility and sub-meter data.  The project included a thorough field verification of meters on every campus, as well as integration with our Real Estate and Construction departments to capture accurate square footages and HVAC systems.  It is a powerful monitoring and analyzing tool with one of its most useful features being a direct, real-time connection to EPA’s Portfolio Manager, so that our school performance data is always up to date in their system.
  • Solar PV – As of last summer, we are requiring all new construction projects to include a preliminary design and layout for solar photovoltaics.  Although PV is not yet included in our Capital Master Plan budget, by presenting it as a Bid Lot on each project, we are often able to arrange the necessary funding.  And even if it’s not funded, the schools are being built ‘PV-Ready’ for future installation.
  • Programmable Thermostats for Portable Buildings – APS has approximately 1700 portables across the District.  Through a partnership with the New Mexico Gas Company, we are receiving free programmable thermostats for every unit!  All APS has to do is install them.  The Utility is justifying their purchase with anticipated aggregate gas savings.
  • Reclaimed Water – Partnering with the Water Authority, our Irrigation Department has hooked up three fields to reclaimed water systems, and has plans for several more this year.  The strategy requires separate piping for potable and non-potable water sources.  The City and APS are sharing design and installation costs.
  • LED Retro-Fits – With the rapid advance of LED technology, we have now standardized on LED lighting for both indoor and outdoor applications.  All new construction projects require it, and with help from Electric Utility rebates, we have begun a systematic retro-fitting program for the hundreds of existing APS buildings.
  • Green Steps – APS is a key participant with the New Mexico Chapter of USGBC in developing a program to help school districts throughout the state take incremental steps toward sustainability and energy efficiency.  It is called ‘Green Steps,’ and is modeled after the national DOE Green Ribbon Schools program.  Our intent is to help all schools, whether mainstream or isolated and financially strapped, to do one good thing at a time until their cumulative successes result in improvements worthy of national attention.

So, suffice it to say, a lot can happen when good-minded people think and work together toward common goals; the ripple effect can be far-reaching.  Thank you, Kentucky, for helping to kick-start our high-performance sustainable schools legacy in Albuquerque, New Mexico!