Archive for Friday, February 1, 2002

Energy prices drop; school districts, governments save

February 1, 2002

Although the weather has brought cold temperatures recently, several local school districts are spending less on utility bills this year thanks in part to a mild winter.

In addition to the unseasonably warm winter, there are other reasons why less has been spent on utilities.

Administrators in the Basehor-Linwood School District said they are paying less for natural gas, schools have more efficient energy systems and teachers have standing orders to keep room temperatures within 65 to 71 degrees.

In November and December 2000, the school district spent $21,282 combined on natural gas expenses for the entire district. During the same months in 2001, the figure dropped to $12,635.

"The price of gas was $5.32 last year," said Don Swartz, Basehor-Linwood School District director of operations. "This year it was $3.69. It was $1.63 a unit cheaper, plus we only used half as much.

"Up to this point, we certainly have come out ahead."

Nearly two-thirds of the school district's total heating expenses comes from Basehor-Linwood High School. The building entails 134,469 square feet, by far the largest of any Basehor-Linwood school.

To help regulate the heat at BLHS, the school district uses what administrators called a "smart system," a computer- monitored temperature system.

The system allows administrators to keep the temperature at 68 degrees in the school.

Swartz said officials have teachers in classrooms to change the temperature, but only two to three degrees either way. This means every room at BLHS is within 65 to 71 degrees, he said.

BLHS and Glenwood Ridge Elementary School are the only district schools to use the computer system to regulate temperatures. The computer system was installed in the schools during recent construction.

Swartz said the district has entertained adding the system throughout the district, but determined it would be too expensive.

"It would cost us about $200,000 to change out the controls in the schools that don't have it," he said.

And while gas costs have still been high in the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School District, they aren't as bad as last year, administrators said.

The Bonner Springs-Edwardsville School District saw its energy costs rise by 35 percent last year, according to Steve Cook, the district's energy director.

"We got hammered last year," he said.

Cook said the mild winter weather has made a difference this year, although the district's energy costs are still high because of construction costs.

"The weather has made a huge impact on it, obviously," he said.

Cook said he doesn't anticipate the district will spend as much this year on energy as last year.

"But we're not out of the woods yet," he said.

Some of the school district's savings comes from the installation of many energy-saving programs, such as replacing old heat pumps, installing new roofs with better insulation at some sites, replacing old lighting units with high-efficiency lights and reminding staff members to turn out the lights when they leave a room, district officials said.

Cook said the area experienced a "phenomenal increase in prices" last year for natural gas, and those prices have dropped slightly this winter.

"The costs are down a little bit because the prices are down a little bit," he said.

Jim Bartling, the manager of public affairs for Greeley Gas Co., said the price of natural gas has dropped substantially during recent months.

During February 2001, customers were paying $9.99 per thousand cubic feet, compared to the current price of $3.36 per thousand cubic feet, Bartling said.

"They've gone down quite a bit," he said.

The average customer's bill rises or falls based upon two factors the amount of natural gas an individual uses and the price they pay for each unit.

The lower prices coupled with less demand for natural gas this winter has given customers the opportunity to save money.

"Both things prove to have favorable impacts on customers' bills," Bartling said.

Through cooperation with the American Red Cross, Bartling said Greeley Gas Co. refunded $2.1 million to more than 6,000 low-income customers hit hardest by last winter's high prices. The program ended in September 2001.

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