The $6.3 million Energy Performance Project the Botetourt school division has been involved in over the past year already provided higher dividends than expected in the first year, according to a report by Johnson Controls representative Witt Blake to the School Board last Thursday.

During the construction phase of the project, Blake’s report said Botetourt schools avoided $119,494 in direct energy costs. The company guaranteed the school division would have an avoidance of $39,199 during that phase that ended this summer when work in the schools was completed.

The most significant part of the upgrade has been converting the lighting in all 14 of the school division’s buildings to LED units. That conversion alone provided the majority of the cost avoidance— $71,592.

Blake said the conversion also provides better lighting in classrooms, gymnasiums, offices and other parts of school buildings.  He noted, too, the cost avoidance does not take into account the savings derived on light bulbs and changing light bulbs since the LED lighting has a much longer life than the fluorescent units that were replaced.

The project also included upgrades to plumbing fixtures in seven schools, the administration building and the bus garage— buildings where the school division has to buy water. Those upgrades include automated water-saving fixtures.

Plumbing upgrades accounted for $13,874 in cost avoidance.

HVAC improvements (boiler replacements) were done in the two high schools, at BTEC and Read Mountain Middle School. Those accounted for $6,960 in avoided energy costs, and does not include savings from rooftop units and chiller replacements that will be reflected in the company’s Year 1 Report to the school division.

Duct sealing was done in four buildings, and building envelope improvements (such as insulation and sealing) were done in 12 buildings. Together, they accounted for $10,000 in cost avoidance.

Cafeteria improvements— walk-in cooler upgrades and kitchen hood controls— provided almost $15,600 in cost avoidance.

Johnson Controls, which got the contract for the project, expects the school division will have $7.6 million in energy and operational savings during the 15-year contract.

The school division used an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) through a program administered by the Virginia Division of Mineral Mining’s Division of Energy (VDMMDE).

Johnson Controls did an Investment Grade Audit on the school buildings to calculate the energy cost savings.

The annual energy savings are expected to be at least $420,000 the first full year, and those savings will pay the debt service on the $6.3 million in work.

It’s possible the school division will save even more, but the annual savings is guaranteed or Johnson Controls will write a check for the difference to cover the debt service. If that happens, Johnson Controls would work on correcting any problems.

Blake told the School Board that last year it’s not unusual for school divisions to save more than projected.

Blake also noted the energy savings project also has “pretty impactful” environmental benefits, plus the lighting changes mean classrooms now have appropriate lighting.

School Board member John Alderson asked about other energy projects the school division could embark on. Blake said there are others, but the payback is longer than the 15 years allowed under the VDMMDE program.

School division Director of Operations Ben Irvin told the School Board that one thing that’s immediately noticeable in the school budget is the savings on light bulbs. He said he’s not bought the normal $20,000 in light bulbs the past two years, and during the last two months the Appalachian Power bill is down $11,000; and this month it’s $6,000 under what it was last year.