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Energy management programs save money for state, schools
Switched Off

Most computers can turn themselves off. But they don't.

"Computers, especially monitors, use a lot of energy," said Dub Taylor, director of the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), a division of the Comptroller's office. "Many computers have what is called power management capability. But for a lot of reasons it isn't activated."

Power management, which reduces the amount of energy a machine uses when it's not in use, can save about $30 per computer each year, Taylor said. But often power management capabilities such as "sleep" mode have been deactivated by Information Technology administrators because they can interfere with computer use, particularly in older models.

"Older PCs can have problems with power management," he said. "With a modern computer with Windows NT operating system, that's not a problem. Macs don't have a problem either."

Watt to watch
SECO funds Watt Watchers, a program that works with schools and state agencies to encourage power management. Taylor said hundreds of schools participate in the program.

"It's a no-brainer from an economic standpoint," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a free computer program available that activates a computer's power management capability. Private vendors sell more sophisticated programs.

Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) in Houston activated the power management capability for central processing units (CPUs) and monitors on its computers in 2003. That's saved the district about $200,000, according to SBISD Energy Manager Rebecca Cordeiro de Peredo.

"The tech department does annual computer upgrades, and they did it over the summertime," she said. "It took about two months. The computers already have the ability built into the operating system; it's just a matter of turning it on."

The district has about 12,000 computers at 47 schools, according to Cordeiro de Peredo. The only glitches in the process were with older computers.

"Anything older than Windows 98 had problems," she said. "But all we had to do was cut out CPU management and do monitor power management only. Most of the power for a computer system goes to the monitor anyway."

The average older computer uses about 350 watts, according to Cordeiro de Peredo. A monitor will use about 200 watts. Newer computers are a lot more energy-efficient, she said.

"A newer computer will use about 250 watts for the entire system," she said.

State mandate
Taylor said state government has been slow to adopt power management because there's been no central, coordinated effort.

Texas State Rep. David Leibowitz, however, filed legislation that attempted to change that. House Bill 2442 would have required all state agencies and public institutions of higher education to determine if power management would save them money. If it would, agencies and institutions would have had to purchase software that enables and tracks power management.

If 80 percent of the state's 300,000 workstations can use the software, it would cost the state an estimated $6.3 million for 2006-07, including the cost of three full-time equivalent employees to work on the project.

The bill's fiscal note, prepared by the Comptroller's office, estimated that the programs would save the state $3.3 million a year, meaning the program would have paid for itself in less than two years.

"The bill picked up a lot of co-sponsors in the Legislature when they realized it didn't cost any money," Taylor said. The Legislature did not pass the bill, however.

In July, the State Council on Competitive Government will approve a vendor to address power management and other energy-saving measures. The Comptroller will manage the contract.

Greg Mt.Joy