Grant awarded to reduce energy costs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Unlike the children they educate, Black Belt schools don’t have a parent to tell them “Turn out the lights” or “Stay away from the thermostat” when it’s time to save on the power bill. But thanks to a recent grant awarded by the state government, they will soon have WRATT.

WRATT is an acronym for the Waste Reduction and Technology Transfer Foundation, a nonprofit coalition of retired engineers, scientists, and other professionals who perform energy “audits” to determine where and how a school or business can save money on energy costs.

“These energy audits will show schools how to save money on energy costs enabling them to devote more money to education,” Governor Bob Riley said in a public statement. “Increased educational resources and improved comfort will allow students to perform at higher levels in the classroom.”

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Robert D. Mitchell, WRATT project director, said he was encouraged by the grant award and ready to put it to use.

“We hope to be in the field fairly soon,” Mitchell said. “We have 50 retired engineers scattered across the state we can use to set up an audit.”

The grant will enable WRATT to audit schools across 15 rural Alabama counties, including Marengo, Greene, Hale, and Perry. An audit consists of a top-to-bottom inspection of the school to discover what conservation practices (i.e. turning off computers?) and low-cost improvements (caulked windows?) can be implemented to save the school money on its energy bill.

“It’s possible to save 25 to 30 percent off the bill in some cases,” Mitchell says. “We look at everything: the type of lighting, the doors, insulation in the attic, pipes, windows, and the cafeteria and kitchen appliances.”

Mitchell says that oftentimes, the improvements that need to be made are simple ones.

“It’s usually the little things,” he says. “A half-inch crack under a door, for instance. One of the biggest problems is inefficient lighting. You might not expect it to be an issue, but there are lighting systems out there that are much more efficient than what many schools have and do not cost much.”

Not surprisingly, Mitchell said that climate control issues are the biggest ones facing schools looking to save money.

“A big energy problem are the heating and A.C. units. Many schools’ are old and inefficient,” he says. “In some cases, though, schools can get money for renovation. Some companies, like Trane and Honeywell, will help make the improvements and be paid with the school’s energy savings. Over time, those savings will pay the company off and then can be used to improve things at no cost to the school.”

The grant was awarded by Riley from funds made available through the U.S. Department of Energy. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will administer the grant, selecting 45 schools throughout WRATT’s 15-county area that are in the greatest need of the audits.