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Energy-Efficient Education
Cutting Utility Costs in Schools

Amid recent state and national reports of rising energy bills, Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander directed her State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) staff to work with her nationally recognized Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) team to find ways to help schools hold the line on energy costs.

Ten Ways to Cut Energy Costs
  1. Establish an energy policy and energy conservation plans for the district and individual campuses.
  2. Turn it off or turn it down when not in use.
  3. Use energy managers, management firms and committees – When and Why!
  4. Conduct energy audits of your buildings.
  5. Purchase energy-efficient lighting, appliances and equipment.
  6. Use performance contracts and other financing options.
  7. Get everyone into the act.
  8. Use renewable energy sources when cost effective.
  9. Build with energy conservation in mind.
  10. Identify discounts; don’t let others take your share.


Less than 51 cents out of every education dollar is spent on instruction, and one of Comptroller Rylander’s goals for Texas in the 21st Century is to drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom, where it belongs. While schools can’t operate without lights, heating and cooling, they can reduce their energy bills to increase the amount of funds available for instruction.

SECO administers a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs that can significantly reduce energy consumption in school districts. For example, the Energy Management Partnership Program has identified more than $10 million in energy savings for school districts in Texas. The LoanSTAR program is recognized as the nation’s largest and longest-running energy efficient, government run public loan program. The program has helped public entities realize energy efficiency savings of more than $94 million and predicts savings of more than $500 million by 2020.

Recognizing the potential for savings, Comptroller Rylander asked SECO and TSPR to find and share new ways to equip school districts with the tools necessary to reduce the cost of operating facilities. These strategies for controlling energy costs, when implemented through a comprehensive program of energy management, can help districts direct more education dollars to the classroom.

Energy Management Goals

According to a February 2001 Dallas Morning News article, the Dallas schools’ gas bill for December 2000 was $398,612, a jump of 170 percent over the $147,756 bill for December 1999. District officials expect their gas bill for the 2001 school year will be $877,000 over budget. In January 2000, the Terrell Independent School District (ISD) spent $4,400 to heat the entire district: eight campuses and two smaller buildings. In January 2001, it cost more than $10,000 to heat just one school, Terrell High. Mesquite ISD reports heating bills in some less energy-efficient buildings have gone up 170 percent since 1999. According to the same article, in many school districts, energy costs are the second-largest item in their annual budgets, behind salaries. The U.S. Department of Energy in its information on EnergySmart Schools at reports that American primary and secondary schools spend more than $6 billion each year on energy. Data reported to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) in 1998-99 shows Texas public schools spent $660 million for utilities. Approximately $450 million of that amount was for electricity to heat, cool and light their facilities.

The goal of energy management is to keep operating costs down by reducing energy waste while providing a safe, comfortable environment for learning. Reaching this goal is complicated. Districts are required to meet federal, state and local rules and regulations regarding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) facility modifications, indoor air quality, student-teacher ratios and a laundry list of local priorities that can impact a district’s operating budget.

The energy cost to operate school facilities is sometimes overlooked when they are designed and built. Most districts will operate and maintain their facilities for 25 to 50 years and in some cases even longer. It makes sense to invest in quality materials, energy-efficient equipment and a solid maintenance program.

The maintenance budget should cover day-to-day maintenance as well as preventative maintenance needed to keep the facility running efficiently. In recent years, school districts have been faced with higher operating costs and less funding. A number of districts have paid for the higher operating costs by reducing maintenance and other budgets that affect the district’s facilities.

Districts that are successful in keeping their energy costs down typically have implemented a districtwide energy management program. The most successful energy management programs reflect a number of common denominators that can guide the novice in setting up a locally controlled energy management program. While each district is unique, there are energy conservation recommendations that can be used by all.