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Ontario school boards focus on energy savings through OPA pilot project. Their data may help other sectors

In 2008, the Ontario Ministry of Education launched its Energy Conservation Initiative, with the goal of reducing energy consumption across the education sector by 10 per cent over the first five years. With approximately 5,000 schools and administrative buildings across 72 district school boards, the collective energy bill for the 2009-2010 fiscal year is projected to be $459 million. To achieve this goal, the Ministry is working closely with the education sector and partners to identify ways to support the boards with better energy management practices.


October 8, 2009
October 8, 2009
By Melanie Franner

As part of its overarching strategy, the Ministry encouraged the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) to lead an initiative that would help all school boards obtain incentive funding to support energy conservation. YCDSB is recognized within the education sector for its effective energy-savings initiatives over the past decade, and their experience made them a great choice to lead a province-wide initiative.

Given the size of the education sector and the opportunity to substantially reduce energy consumption across the asset portfolio, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) — the provincial agency responsible for helping Ontario meet aggressive electricity conservation targets — awarded the YCDSB $250,000 through its Conservation Fund to create an in-house resource, an Incentive Programs Advisor (IPA), who would identify and promote energy-efficiency incentive programs available to school boards across Ontario. Norm Vezina, Senior Manager of Environmental and Office Services, YCDSB will lead the initiative.

“Energy incentive funding comes from multiple agencies – federal, provincial and local utilities — and each has different objectives and documentation requirements, which can be quite complex and time consuming to understand and manage,” explains Karen Carter, senior policy advisor, energy procurement and conservation with the Ministry of Education. “The Ministry wanted to support school boards that were implementing energy-efficient projects and encourage boards to take advantage of incentive programs to maximize their capital funding for these projects. To increase school boards’ uptake of incentive funding, we needed to make the application process easier for them.”

The responsibilities of the IPA include working with each funding agency to understand its process and promoting the agency’s incentive programs to the education sector. The IPA also works with each board to identify projects that are applicable for funding and then complete the application form on the board’s behalf.

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The new IPA, Robert Smith, was hired in April of this year.

“My role is to work hand-in-hand with school boards to match a board’s energy-efficiency projects with available incentive funding and to extend their financial resources,” he says.

With more than 30 years of experience in the electrical utility business, Smith suggests that the key to success in this initiative is early involvement.

“The application process for incentive programs can be very lengthy and require substantial documentation,” he says. “Projects have a life of their own, so it’s important to be involved at the beginning when the project is a priority for everyone involved, instead of chasing after information when the project is finished and the contractors have moved on.”

The importance of data
The Ministry of Education has financed the development of an Incentive Programs Database to assist Smith in tracking incentive funding applications made by school boards to the various incentive programs. This database provides a listing of all programs available to school boards and then tracks each application that the IPA has submitted on a board’s behalf, recording important details about the application, such as the length of time from the submission of the application to the award of incentive funding, the date the project was completed, and what kind of efficiency measures the incentives helped to purchase.

“The collection of this data will assist us in accurately assessing the value of the IPA position to participating school boards and determine whether this type of position is a viable strategy for other sectors to consider,” says Vezina.

In addition, the data will provide the OPA and the Ministry with valuable information about which incentive programs are the most accessed by the sector, the length of time it takes between the application for funding and project completion, and data on how the boards are using funding.

If successful, the IPA model may be of interest to other sectors interested in gaining operational savings through energy conservation. These could include municipalities, colleges, universities, hospitals, retailers, property management companies, industry and others.

“We saw this province-wide pilot initiative as an ideal fit for us,” says Bryan Young, OPA manager of the Conservation Fund. “The Incentive Program Advisor project was selected not only because it’s innovative, but also because it shows huge potential to be replicated in other sectors.” The Conservation Fund is a pilot project incubator for the OPA, helping to identify promising initiatives with the potential to scale-up for big electricity savings.

Another important component that will be used to evaluate the IPA program is the development of a Utility Consumption Database (UCD) to track the electricity and natural gas consumption of every public school and administrative building in Ontario. The UCD was developed by the Ministry of Education and will provide historical consumption data for 24 months. It will be linked to relevant facility metrics, such as building area, year of construction and type of building.

“The database will allow boards to monitor their electricity and natural gas usage and review the total consumption for each site,” says Vezina. “This will give the board the opportunity to compare the energy consumption of specific schools to similar assets in their portfolio or to a provincial average for schools with similar characteristics, such as year of construction.”

The database can also be used to identify high-performing schools to determine common best practices and, in turn, to promote those best practices to other schools as a way to further reduce energy consumption.

Working together
The Incentive Program Advisor is an example of how the education sector has successfully partnered both internally (Ministry and YCDSB) and externally (OPA) to find innovative ways to reduce energy consumption. The development of the two new databases will provide the sector with the relevant tools to measure their progress, while the recent hiring of Robert Smith for the newly created IPA position will assist school boards in securing incentive funding to support the implementation of energy efficient projects.
 
“As a whole, the education sector is very enthusiastic about energy conservation,” says the Ministry’s Carter. “They see themselves as leaders in the community and believe that schools are uniquely positioned to demonstrate the principles of energy efficiency and conservation and make a positive change for the next generation.”

Melanie Franner is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Cookstown, Ontario. Further information on the Ontario Power Authority, and its energy-conservation projects, may be found at www.business.everykilowattcounts.com.