Energy conservation in schools should be more aggressive
Public schools that cut their electricity bills will get half of the savings to use as they wish while those that exceed their limits will have to pay.
OFFERING individual public schools cash for cutting their electricity bills
is a fair deal since the schools are doing the conserving and reducing the Department of Education's overall power costs, though it seems a bit stingy for the department to return just half the savings.
Making schools that don't conserve pay half the amount of the bill when they exceed their limits is a needed incentive, but the cost should not become so punitive as to hurt school programs.
Moreover, the half-carrot, half-stick approach to conservation should not be rigid. Older schools aren't likely to be as energy efficient as newer facilities, leaving them with fewer ways to cut power use. In addition, enrollment fluctuations will change electricity needs so limits should be adjusted accordingly.
The department next year will expand nearly system-wide the program that initially involved 15 schools and that showed schools could reduce energy use through simple actions. Lahaina Intermediate managed to trim its bill by about $400 a month by getting teachers to share mini-refrigerators and turning off lights in empty classrooms.
Small steps can make a difference, but the department and the Lingle administration should be more aggressive in cutting the line of fossil-fuel energy production. A state with such abundant sunshine should have solar and photovoltaic power connected with all its facilities and it remains a puzzle why Hawaii lags in that effort.
School renovations should also incorporate structural means to pare electricity use, which takes a $37 million annual slice from the education budget.
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