Archive for January, 2013

Refitting a home with energy-efficient technology seems very costly on first glance, but California leaders have seen that the initial spending can lead to millions of savings in the future. This Forbes article talks about some of the measures California is taking to cut educational costs by saving energy in run down schools.

The Great Recession sent the California economy reeling. Home values plummeted, unemployment spiked, and state budget deficits soared. The state shed 1.4 million jobs, including 400,000 construction workers and 32,000 teachers.

But, on November 6, 2012, California voters approved two measures that should help stanch the bleeding. Proposition 30 increased income taxes on high earners for seven years and raised the sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years; Proposition 39 closed a tax loophole that favored out-of-state corporations, costing the state around $1 billion annually.

Prop 39 stipulates that over the next five years half of the recovered revenue be spent on clean energy and energy efficiency projects in public buildings. After five years, all of the revenue flows to the state’s General Fund.

Budget analysts expect Prop 39 to make available an estimated $2.5 billion for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. The revenue offers California the opportunity to make smart investments that should provide the state’s chronically underfunded schools a hedge against the next economic downturn.

On January 10, Governor Jerry Brown released a budget plan [PDF] that would deposit $450 million of Prop 39 revenue ($400.5 million for K-12 public schools and $49.5 million for community colleges) into a fund for efficiency projects for the fiscal year beginning July 1. In the four years to follow, schools would receive $550 million annually.

Funds would be distributed on a per-pupil basis by the Department of Education and the Chancellor’s Office for the California Community Colleges. The plan recommends that the California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission develop guidelines for prioritizing the use of the funds.

Image source: Forbes

Image source: Forbes

Unrivaled opportunity to upgrade California’s aging schools

Last month, Kate Gordon, Director, Advanced Energy and Sustainability Program, The Center for the Next Generation, and her colleague James Barba published a white paper titled Proposition 39: Investing in California’s Future.” (The Yes on Prop 39 campaign was co-chaired and largely funded by billionaire and clean energy advocate Tom Steyer. Steyer is a founding board member of The Center for the Next Generation and, with his wife, pledged $15 million over five years towards its operations. Greenwire recently profiled Steyer here.)

Gordon and Barba identify both the scope of the opportunity and the diverse and complementary benefits possible with the injection of funds from Prop 39:

California serves over 6.2 million students each year, one out of eight students in the nation. These students are housed in over 10,000 schools in which over 70 percent of school buildings are over 25 years old. One-third of classrooms in the state are held in portable or modular buildings, many of which are desperately in need of maintenance and energy retrofitting, and some of which are actually toxic because of the chemicals they contain.

Gordon and Barba cite a UC Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools report finding that California’s K-12 schools face a $117 billion bill for needed capital improvements over the next decade. “Proposition 39 offers a chance to break energy efficiency projects out of the bond financing model” – the conventional funding instrument for capital improvements – “and to look seriously at investing in modernizing our existing school buildings across every district in California,” they write.

Energy retrofitting offers administrators the opportunity to redirect money from energy bills to the classroom. The sums involved are not insignificant. The state’s K-12 schools spend $132 per student each year on energy expenses, according to a California Energy Commission statistic cited by Gordon and Barba. California’s schools spend $700 million annually on energy; the Los Angeles Unified School District alone spends $105 million.

According to Gordon and Barba, the U.S. EPA estimates that the average school retrofit reduces energy costs by 30%, saving a typical 100,000-square-foot school between $10,000 and $16,000 annually. “This means that if every California school received a comprehensive energy efficiency retrofit, our school districts could open up at least 240 million per year for teachers, textbooks, and educational programs,” they write.

The Legislature’s plan

Before Prop 39 revenue can begin to flow to California’s public schools, the governor’s office and Legislature must agree on how to disperse the funds. Last month, Senator Kevin de Leon and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 39 (SB 39), which identifies a different method to distribute funds than in Gov. Brown’s budget plan.

Rather than apportion Prop 39 revenue on a per-pupil basis, SB 39 directs the Office of Public School Construction to distribute grants on a competitive basis. (For more details, read the background document [PDF] released by Sen. de Leon’s office.) Priority would be given to applications for projects at schools with above average energy consumption, in economically depressed communities, and in areas with an above average unemployment rate.

Under the bill, eligible projects include those that reduce energy consumption and operational costs via upgrades to: ventilation; lighting and other system controls; air infiltration; water use; windows and doors; heating and cooling (HVAC); electrical systems; and insulation. The bill is silent on the eligibility of renewable energy projects, but the authors state that improvements “include, but are not limited to” those just mentioned. Under Gov. Brown’s budget plan, which follows guidance in the state’s loading order, renewable energy systems would be eligible.

Unless it’s recycled, the cost of energy will only continue to rise. Comfort Experts helps clients replace high-maintenance heating systems with eco-friendly technology. Read more about its work by following this Twitter account.


For home owners who are willing to take an active part in the management of their home’s energy resources, the changing of the seasons also means that there is a need for some adjustments around the house to keep the rooms comfortable while ensuring that energy is not needlessly wasted. Hobson Air Condition Inc.’s home energy analysis service revealed that temperature regulation takes up a significant part of the home’s overall energy consumption.

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Different seasons require roughly the same principle for energy conservation: Home owners simply need to reduce the burden on their heat and air-conditioning systems. To do so, home owners are advised to dial down a little on their room cooling or heating and seek other ways to increase the comfort level in their rooms. With even an adjustment of 1 or 2 degrees to indoor temperature, there are corresponding reductions to energy use, which translates to similar reductions to the utilities bill.

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For instance, home owners can take advantage of passive solar heating to add warmth to rooms by opening up drapes on south-facing windows to allow the sunlight inside. Additionally, this takes advantage of natural lighting and reduces the need for artificial lighting, further reducing their energy consumption. The opposite strategy works during hotter months as using shades and drapes to keep the warming rays of sunlight out of the house reduces the load on the cooling system.

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In both cases, improving the insulation between rooms is also recommended. Preserving the room temperature in rooms that need to be warmed or cooled means that the temperature regulation systems don’t have to turn on as often.

For tips on making homes more energy efficient, visit