Feb 25

4 Things Schools Need To Know About Their Utility Bill

4-things-schools-need-to-know-about-utility-bill-mistakesWe find mistakes, overages, mis-charges and just plain poor math on commercial utility bills all of the time.  When we set up an account for a Schools for Energy Efficiency client, we scrutinize each of their electrical and natural gas bills, and far too often we find that there is money to be saved simply by better understanding what they are being charged for.  Commercial bills are different from household bills, and if the person paying yours hasn’t done a review of your utilities recently, one should be done today.

Here are 4 things schools need to know about their utility bill:

1.     Non-profit organizations such as schools should not be charged sales tax.  If your organization is tax-exempt, but you have been paying tax on your electric or gas bill, you have may have hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in refunds entitled to you.   If you have a tax exempt status, review your bills for a tax line.  If you are being charged, you have the right to appeal and be refunded.

2.     Commercial businesses get charged for electric demand.  This is a charge that is only found on business accounts, so if you look for it on your residential electricity bills, you won’t find it.    Basically, since electricity can’t be easily stored, utility companies must be ready at any time to supply you with as much electricity as you need.  You pay for this availability through a “demand” charge.  Demand measures your peak use throughout each billing period, and the more you use, the more you pay.  By reducing your demand, you can greatly reduce your monthly electric bill.

3.     Work with your utility representative to check the rate schedules that they offer, and make sure you are on the right one.  Although they can be difficult to understand, you may find an opportunity to switch and save.  For example, your utilities may offer a “time of day” rate or curtailment discounts.  Electric companies may offer curtailment discounts to large buildings in order to help conserve energy in times of extreme use.  Generally, these happen during times of extreme heat, when many more people are using electricity for cooling purposes.  If your organization is eligible for curtailment, you agree to reduce energy use during times of high need in exchange for a break on your rates.  This may mean changing the temperature on your AC, turning out some lights or shutting down large equipment for a short period of time in order to allow that electricity to be allocated somewhere else.

Natural gas companies may offer curtailment discounts too .  For example, if you have a boiler that can run on both natural gas and fuel oil, you may be eligible for a discount from your natural gas company if you are willing to switch to fuel oil during very cold days when the supply can’t keep up with the demand. 

4.    Be sure that the meter numbers on your utility bills match up with the meter numbers at your building.  Do this by field checking your meter numbers to be sure they match up with your bills.  Meters break, meters get changed, buildings are bought and sold – if your utility provider has incorrect meter numbers associated with your bill, you may be paying for energy you aren’t even using, or paying a fee for a meter that isn’t even being used.  Each year, designate someone to locate each of your meters, ensure they are working properly and that the numbers match up.  If you find one that is wrong, contact your utility provider immediately and be sure it’s corrected.

Bottom line – make the utility company your friend!  If something shows up on your bill that doesn’t look quite right, pick up the phone and call them.  Make sure you understand each line item of your bills so that you can learn how to reduce use and dollars.  And finally – do a thorough review of your rate schedules annually.  If your utility companies have made any change to their rates, you may find that there are other options available that can save you money.

Feb 18

Host an Energy Carnival at Your School This Year!

Because K-12 schools are our biggest client base, we are always looking for fun and creative ways to engage the students in energy efficiency, as well as the staff.

Most of the time our program focuses on the adults – what they can do each and every day, as part of their normal routine, to save energy and money for their school. But we also know that bringing in the students is something that schools want to do…and it helps a district reap even bigger rewards when the kids are on board just as much as the adults!

Energy-related events are a great way to engage and educate people about how to conserve energy. National Energy Awareness Month in October and Earth Day in April are two great times of year to plan events around – and why not have an Energy Carnival? Not only will the fun and games get people excited about energy efficiency, but kids and adults can participate in the planning, running and enjoying of the games!

Consider inviting the community to attend your Energy Carnival. Proceeds can go to funding an energy efficiency project for your school – what a great way to fundraise for energy efficiency!

To get started, here are some fun ideas to incorporate into your Energy Carnival:ID-100155673

  • Set up a Human Power Generator or Energy Bike for people to get moving and actually feel how much energy it takes to power different household items
  • Create a recycle relay or sorting game. Ask game players to sort items into: rubbish (trash), reuse (donate) or recycle.
  • Serve energy-free treats, and have a no-bake cake walk. Bonus points for using local, organic ingredients!

For more great ideas and help planning, here are two different guides from the NEED project:

Energy Carnival 1

Energy Carnival 2

Feb 04

When Should my School District Include a Behavior Program in our Energy Conservation Efforts?

When we meet with potential school district clients, we ask them to tell us about their organizational energy conservation efforts in the past 3-5 years. Almost everyone we meet with has done something to improve their energy efficiency: from replacing old light bulbs with newer, more energy efficient bulbs to upgrading a majority of their facilities and equipment. Some have recently started working with an Energy Services Company (ESCO) while others are just ending a long-term relationship with an ESCO or other energy consultant.logoRefreshWebsite


However, very few districts we meet with have included behavior in their conservation efforts.


Replacing lighting systems, temperature control systems or HVAC systems with more energy efficient ones should be the cornerstone of any school district’s energy plan. Because more than half of the energy used in commercial buildings goes to lighting, heating and cooling, these upgrades can have a significant, positive impact on your utility bill. Therefore, if you are not including behavior in your energy conservation mix, you are missing opportunities to save.


But when is the best time to include a behavior program in your energy-saving efforts?


Perhaps it’s your first step – bringing in a low cost, high ROI behavior program to jump start energy and cost savings and begin shifting the culture toward energy conservation.


Behavior could also be brought it somewhere in the middle – even in conjunction with an ESCO. Behavioral strategies compliment the technical strategies offered by most ESCOs and allow you to take full advantage of the positive changes being made by educating employees on how to make wise choices when it comes to energy.


It could also be that behavior is the final piece to your energy plan puzzle. You’ve invested in building and asset upgrades, you’ve worked with ESCOs or other performance contractors and now you want an internal program to help ensure your energy savings continue into the foreseeable future.


No matter what point you are at – behavior programs work. At CLASS 5 Energy, we know that there is no “one size fits all” solution to energy conservation and programming. That’s why we work to provide support at all levels.


Contact us today to find out more about how behavior fits into where you are at right now!

Jan 26

Do This, Not That – How to Save Energy at School

There seems to be a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to being energy efficient. Often do-this-not-that-schoolwhen we begin talking about energy conserving behaviors, people say to us “But I heard that you weren’t supposed to do that!” or “But I was always taught to do it this way…”

Becoming more energy efficient is a quick and easy way for schools to manage one of the biggest expenses in their district – but only if they have the right info! Let us help you understand what to do, and what not to do, to truly save energy every day!


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Jan 15

9 Fun Facts About Saving Energy at School!

Think saving energy at school is boring? Think again! Here are some fun facts about what happens when you conserve energy in your classrooms, bathrooms, computer labs and across the district!

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Jan 06

12 Tips to Save Energy in Your School’s Kitchen

When we work with schools in the SEE program, we always say that energy conservation needs to stretch from the board room to the boiler room… and everywhere in between. Lots of our clients target their initial efforts on classrooms, which allows them to get students involved and also change behavior in rooms that are used all day long.  When it’s time to dig deeper, schools often shift their focus to staff offices, computer labs and large gymnasiums. But we remind them not to forget about the kitchen!

All schools offer some kind of meal plan to their students. Depending on the size of the district, there may be a full commercial kitchen or perhaps only a limited amount of equipment for keeping things cool and warm. No matter what Food Service in your district looks like, there is energy to be saved!

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Dec 22

Have an Energy Efficient Holiday Season in Your School District!

Most districts do some kind of winter celebration, whether it’s around the holidays or simply some winter themed festivities. When thinking about how to celebrate, remember that there are lots of fun opportunities to engage your staff and students in some green behaviors that will not only benefit them, but your district as well! Consider these holiday-themed, energy saving ideas this December:

  • Decorate energy efficiently. Many classroom and schools put up some come of festive holiday décor this time of year – it adds some fun and makes people happy! Decorating can also add some major energy use to your bill, however. Do your best to choose efficient and green options such as LED lights and recycled/recyclable or all natural garland. Plug any electronic decorations into a power strip, and be sure it gets unplugged over nights and weekends. Use reflective tinsel or ornaments rather than electric lights – reflective materials will sparkle on their own when natural or artificial light shines on them!
  • Be a recycled light drop point. Most areas have a holiday light recycling program around the holidays, and you can designate one or more of your school buildings as a drop site! Not only can your staff and students bring in old, burnt out or inefficient lights, but the community as well. Be sure to send out internal communications as well as a press release to alert folks in yoenergy-efficient-holiday-seasonur area!
  • Green your holiday party. Host your holiday party during the day to take advantage of natural light – perhaps during no student/staff work day. Serve energy-free foods that require no heating or cooling to prepare and sustain (check out these raw food recipes and these no-bake desserts!). Have compostable plates, cups and flatware – or even better, reusable. Be sure all waste is recyclable. Wrap door prizes or gifts in newspaper, or for a fun flair, paper out of your own recycling bin!
  • Choose products with the EPA’s “Design for the Environment” label. Products with this label are more efficient and are made using products safer for the environment and people. Look for companies that provide décor, electronics, candles or party supplies.

Having a green holiday season is easy and can even make it more fun and festive! If you have ideas or tips on how schools can go green this winter – leave a comment!



Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Dec 19

CFLs are Safe for Schools! Myth Buster: CFL Light Bulbs

Lighting accounts for 35% of the energy consumed by commercial buildings, including schools, so it’s no surprise that one of our first recommendations to K-12 clients is to assess lighting needs and make some simple changes.

One of the easiest things you can ask your facilities staff to do is switch from traditional incandescent bulbs to CFL or LED options. CFLs have gotten less expensive and are much more readily available than in the past – but there are still a lot of misconceptions about CFL bulbs.

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Dec 10

How Does the SEE® Program Work?

The SEE® program is a fully customizable energy reduction plan for K-12 schools which focuses on behavior-based energy efficiency strategies. This means that rather than looking only at things like equipment upgrades and alternative energy sources, we focus on how your current systems are using energy…and how the people within your buildings are using energy.

Then we recommend strategies to help the systems and people operate as efficiently as they can each and every day. Helping people understand energy use – and changing their actions around its consumption – is a big job. Unlike new equipment, you don’t simply “install” a behavior program and move on. Rather, we use a proven reiterative change management process that winds its way through every department in your district: from the boiler room, to the board room to the classroom.

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Dec 10

Happy Holidays from one of our Partners, the City of Elk River!

CLASS 5 is thrilled to be working with several cities in Minnesota as part of a CARD Grant pilot which brings behavior-based energy efficiency to city buildings.  Each of our participants (Duluth, Elk River, Minnetonka, Northfield and White Bear Lake) are provided with several resources for making energy conservation a part of their culture…however they are also tasked with coming up with their own fun and innovative ways to engage both city staff, and community members.

One of those cities, Elk  River, decided that this year saying Happy Holidays also mean reminding folks to be energy efficient when they decorate!  Check out this great video – and remember to choose energy efficient decor for your home and organization as well!




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