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Tech School Jumpstarts Energy Upgrades

 By ARN ALBERTINI Recorder Staff    [ Originally published on: Friday, March 28, 2008  by The Recorder]

The Franklin County Technical School hopes to save money while, at the same time, helping prepare students for a career in renewable energy by installing new energy-efficient components at the school.

A few months ago, the School Committee hired Siemens Building Technologies of Canton for $12,900 to audit the school's energy use. Earlier this month, Siemens presented its findings, including recommendations for improving the school's energy efficiency.

According to Siemens, the school could save at least $185,000 a year in energy costs by making about $3.3 million worth of improvements.

The school's 13-member towns won't see any difference in the amount of their bills from the school because the school will take out a loan to pay for the improvements, said Superintendent Rich Lane.

The school will pay off that loan with the savings from installing the new equipment and making the recommended changes, he said. ''Instead of paying for more fuel, we're going to pay off the loan for new equipment.''

Jerry Drummond, sales team leader for Siemens, told the Franklin County Technical School Committee, ''You'll save at least as much as you spend.''

And if the school saves less than Siemens estimates, Siemens will pay the difference, he said. If the school saves more than Siemens estimates, the district gets to keep the extra money, Drummond said.

''I see this as part of a larger initiative to integrate renewable energy into the curriculum,'' said Lane.

The school has already purchased solar-electric panels that will be installed on the greenhouse to be used as an instructional tool and to provide power.

As part of its response to the audit, the school is considering buying two solar hot water heaters. One will help provide hot water for the building, but will also allow students to monitor and maintain the heater, Lane said.

The second solar hot water heater would solely be for teaching purposes, allowing students to take apart and reassemble the heater to study the technology, he said.

Siemens is also proposing installing solar-powered streetlights in the parking lot, which will be another opportunity for the students to analyze and maintain renewable energy technology.

The exact list of improvements the school will make hasn't been determined and won't be decided until the School Committee approves the project, but most likely it will at least include new light fixtures and light bulbs, smaller, more efficient boilers, and new rooftop heating and cooling systems.

Also, Berkshire Gas has agreed to connect the school to the gas line running under Industrial Boulevard — for free. Natural gas is often cheaper than oil and the pricing is more stable, said Lane.

Among the other suggestions of the report revamping systems with more energy efficient components, a new energy management system, controls to turn down systems when they're not in use, an energy management for computers and a system to save energy with vending machines.

''If you were building a brand new school this is exactly the technology you'd be looking at,'' said Drummond.

The rooftop heaters that were installed when the school was first opened in 1976 cost about $65,000 a year to keep up and are one of the main reasons the school got into the energy efficiency program, Lane said.

''They are costing more and more every year, just to limp along.''

Currently, to turn on one of the rooftop units, you have to turn on a central boiler, but the new system would allow control over individual units, he said.

It's not part of the energy efficiency plan, but the technical school also plans to install security cameras inside the main entrance and outside, above the main entrance, in the parking areas, the back of the school and at the kitchen entrance.

The school hopes to have the changes in by October, provided the School Committee approves the plan. The board is scheduled to vote next month.

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