Schools joining green revolution

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By The Staff

Since Kentucky’s students have made significant strides academically over the years, it only makes sense that the schools themselves are also among the nation’s leaders – in this case, when it comes to the cost of operating them.

Not long after the Kentucky Education Reform Act was signed into law in 1990, the state installed its first geothermal heating and cooling system in a school. That number now stands at 255, meaning a fifth of every elementary and secondary school in the Commonwealth is using the Earth’s natural energy to keep its facilities comfortable.

Kentucky’s schools are not just taking advantage of the “green” revolution we have been seeing in recent years; they are actually leading the way in many regards. And next month, in what is believed to be a first in the country, bids will be taken to construct two schools in Warren and Kenton counties that are designed, over the course of a year, to essentially produce enough energy to meet their entire needs.

This has been part of a growing trend among many schools across the state, but especially in the northern and western regions. Many of these schools are now needing less than half as much energy as similar schools in a similar climate.

Thirteen have obtained the prestigious ENERGY STAR designation. Combined, these schools are reducing carbon dioxide emissions by six million tons annually, and they cost about 40 cents per square foot less to operate on average. The number of these schools in Kentucky is significantly higher than those in surrounding states.

These types of schools are able to succeed because of a three-part strategy. First, they take advantage of more energy-efficient architectural designs, building materials and equipment. They use natural sunlight to supplement and even replace fluorescent lighting, and they substantially increase the insulating value of their exterior walls and substantially reduce the amount of unused space. They use energy-efficient equipment in places like the kitchen, and rely more on laptop computers, which require much less electricity than their desktop versions.

Second, the schools are using geothermal and solar power that not only generate electricity for the school but actually enable the school to sell some of that power back to the electric companies, especially during the summer, when the classrooms aren’t in use.

Third, the schools hire energy experts and even use students themselves to find ways to cut energy consumption. School officials are finding these changes have become an invaluable teaching tool.

It costs a little more upfront to make some of these changes, but it only takes about 15 years to pay off the investment. At that point, the schools begin saving as much as $52,000 a year, and do it in a way that is environmentally sound.

The General Assembly will undoubtedly look for ways in 2009 to help more schools take advantage of this trend. One possible avenue is letting schools tap into $80 million in bonds legislators authorized early this year to help private and some public organizations go “green.”

As we deal with record fuel prices, there is greater incentive than ever to find other ways to get the energy we need. Kentucky, I am proud to say, is leading the way when it comes to our schools and in other areas as well.

If you would like to let me know your thoughts on this or any other measure involving state government, please feel free to contact me. My address is Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Representative Rick Rand