ELKHART -- At the end of 2009, as it became increasingly clear schools would need to do more with less, area districts began looking for ways to cut back on energy costs. To accomplish the cuts effectively, several area districts partnered with Energy Education Inc.

A Texas-based company, EEI works intensively with organizations to help them reduce their energy consumption. It's too early to know the total savings the partnerships will yield, but officials are encouraged by the results so far.

Elkhart Community Schools

Elkhart's energy conservation program began last fall, and a key move for the district was hiring Ted Foland as its energy education specialist. Foland spends most of his time in Elkhart's buildings at all hours looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and avoid waste.

To measure the cost savings Foland uses a computer program called EnergyCAP. The software, which does not come from EEI, analyzes the utility cost information for the district. For Elkhart, that amounts to readings from more than 170 meters for electric, gas and water/sewage use. The software then calculates the district's energy savings compared with the baseline year. ECAP also takes external factors such as weather into consideration.

From January through March of this year Elkhart saved $223,767, or 18.8 percent, compared with those three months in 2009.

"We're encouraged by the numbers we see here," Foland said.

There's still more work to do before Elkhart will know its full savings potential. Foland will spend the remainder of the year finding the balance between keeping buildings comfortable for students and teachers and operating efficiently. He'd like to see the district reach and maintain a 20 percent energy savings.

"While we've made a lot of progress, there's other things that we have more to do on," said Doug Hasler, executive director of support services for Elkhart, "and we think we can achieve even higher levels of savings."

Foland and Hasler said EEI has played an active role in helping the district find ways to cut energy costs. Foland meets with energy management people at least once a week for several hours and consults with workers with experience in areas like electric and boiler operations.

Elkhart pays EEI monthly and performance fees, and if the district's savings goals are met this year they will ultimately pay EEI $500,000. Hasler he thinks the district will save more than enough to cover the EEI expenses, as well as Foland's position and the one-time cost of the ECAP software, which is just under $12,000.

Hasler said Elkhart is obligated to pay EEI for four years but believes the district will still net energy savings during that time. After that Elkhart will continue to consult with the company free of charge and will only be responsible for the cost of Foland's position.

Energy savings generated by the district will most likely benefit the capital projects fund which pays for the majority of Elkhart's utility costs, Hasler said.

Concord Community Schools

Joe Bowen, energy education specialist for Concord, said the district has been working with EEI since September. Between January and April Concord has saved nearly $100,000 in energy costs, he said, almost 20 percent compared to last year.

Like Foland, Bowen spends a lot of his time looking for ways to cut electric, gas and water usage. During the school year buildings are heated to around 70 degrees between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. and cooled to 55 degrees between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. This summer he expects the temperature to range from 75 degrees during the day and 85 degrees at night. All lights that are not needed are kept off, particularly after 4:30 p.m.

EEI personnel visit Concord roughly three to four times per month, and Bowen said he also attends roughly three conferences per year. Ultimately he'd like to add another 5 to 8 percent to the district's energy savings.

Bowen said Concord's contract with EEI is for four years but said the cost of participation hasn't been made public. In addition the district is also paying for Bowen's time as well as for ECAP software.

Wa-Nee Community Schools

Wa-Nee began working with EEI in December. Lisa Streib, energy education specialist for the district, said she expected the first round of data to be released in two to three months.

Wa-Nee will also work with EEI for four years and is using the ECAP software to track results. Streib, who has been meeting regularly with EEI representatives and checking Wa-Nee's six buildings for ways to save, doesn't have a specific savings goal in mind for the district yet.

Goshen Community Schools

According to Allison Brenneman, Goshen's energy education specialist, the district has achieved more than $224,193 in savings, a 19.52 percent reduction in about eight months.

"Being good stewards of both our money and our environment gives us a great sense of satisfaction," she said.

Middlebury Community Schools

Middlebury has been participating with EEI since June 2004.

Don Weirich, Middlebury's energy education specialist, didn't go into specifics regarding what the district has done to avoid energy costs other than to say they are practicing "some common sense energy savings." Except for the new high school, Middlebury's buildings have avoided $1.6 million in costs since 2004. Middlebury is currently establishing a baseline for the new high school.

Weirich said the program's success ultimately depends on the willingness of a district's employees to actively participate.

"It's a people program," he said. "If the people in the corporation do not buy into it, you won't have savings."

Elkhart Truth Reporter Audrie Garrison contributed to this story.

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