District flips switch on new energy saving programs

NANAIMO – Upcoming projects help school district reduce energy costs.

Lighting upgrades, an electric vehicle, a thermal heating project and a boiler upgrade are some upcoming initiatives that will help Nanaimo school district reduce energy consumption.

Heating and lighting the district’s more than 40 active facilities comes with a hefty price tag – the district spends more than $1 million annually on natural gas and about $900,000 per year on electricity.

Chad Dalrymple, energy and capital projects manager, said the district has focused in recent years on energy savings and estimates that over the past decade, lighting and boiler upgrades have saved the district about $5 million in electricity and fuel costs.

This year, almost a dozen district facilities had lighting upgrades and about 16 sites are scheduled for upgrades between now and March.

Dalrymple said once this work is complete, every school should have the most energy efficient lighting available.

The district is participating in B.C. Hydro’s continuous optimization program, through which real-time meters were installed at Dover Bay and Cedar secondary schools – the schools that use the most power – allowing staff to look at energy usage as it’s consumed.

The meters were installed in August and staff are required to watch the results for a year without changing anything and then make changes that have a two-year payback in terms of dollars spent on electricity.

“The program really is to look at the heating and lighting systems and ensure they are optimized,” said Dalrymple.

As for fossil fuels, the district gets its first electric car at the end of this month or beginning of next.

Earlier this year, school officials decided to use a $25,000 energy improvement grant to help buy an electric car and install three charging stations on district property. The three stations – one at the facilities department on Wakesiah Avenue and two at Nanaimo District Secondary School – cost $21,000, but the district received an $8,000 grant through the Community Charging Infrastructure Fund, a provincial grant program announced last spring.

The remaining $12,000 went toward a down payment on a $39,000 electric vehicle, with the remainder leased at about $450 a month, replacing a rental vehicle that was costing the district $882 per month.

Dalrymple said the car will save an estimated $1,800 in fuel costs over the course of a year.

Another major project is replacing the boiler at Pleasant Valley Elementary School.

The boiler projects, like the lighting upgrades, are funded out of the district’s annual facilities grant, but because boiler upgrades are expensive – the Pleasant Valley project costs $125,000 – the work is done slowly.

About five schools have new technology and by the time all the other facilities are upgraded, the replacement cycle will start again.

A long-term project is looking into capturing heat from a new sewer line the Regional District of Nanaimo plans to install next to Hammond Bay Elementary School and using it to heat the school, although Dalrymple said the project is still in the very early stages.

“We’ve been in lots of conversations with the regional district,” he said. “They don’t have a use for the heat and our school does.”

All of these projects also lower the amount of carbon offsets the district must purchase to become carbon neutral – the district currently pays a little more than $100,000 annually, although this money is returned by the province to help with energy improvement projects.