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Let there be cheaper light

With PUD help, Snohomish schools seek to cut energy costs

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
Published: Monday, June 13, 2011, 12:01 a.m.
  • The gymnasium of the newly built Machias Elementary School in Snohomish Thursday, December 23. The school opens on January 3. 
PHOTO SHOT 12232010

    Sarah Weiser / The Herald

    The gymnasium of the newly built Machias Elementary School in Snohomish Thursday, December 23. The school opens on January 3. PHOTO SHOT 12232010

  • Teacher Peggy Panko (left) leads a class at Riverview Elementary School in Snohomish. A wall of windows and skylights help bring in natural light.

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    Teacher Peggy Panko (left) leads a class at Riverview Elementary School in Snohomish. A wall of windows and skylights help bring in natural light.

Solar panels line the roof.
A geothermal pump helps heat the building.
Skylights and a wall of windows provide natural lighting.
Flat-screen televisions flash the latest information on energy use.
If you think this sounds like the description of a cutting edge, energy conscious company, you would be half right.
It's a school -- two actually: Machias and Riverview elementary schools in Snohomish. Like many organizations, school districts are anxious to cut costs. Using more energy-efficient systems can help in the long run, especially if the local utility is willing to chip in. Snohomish County Public Utility District is.
The PUD offered roughly $200,000 in incentives and rebates to help the two schools incorporate energy efficient features like solar panels.
"It helps the project become a little more attractive for a business or a school," said Neil Neroutsos, spokesman for the utility. The PUD figures it's cheaper to support projects that save energy than it is to develop new energy sources. Ultimately, the schools could see up to $100,000 annually in energy savings.
The utility worked with Snohomish School District as it developed plans for its new elementary schools. Ronn Larpenteur, a senior energy engineer for the PUD, highlighted a few of the energy-saving ideas incorporated in the two schools.
•Solar photo voltaic rooftop systems: The schools have a 100-kilowatt solar panel installment on their roofs. Until recently, the solar project was the biggest in Washington state. The solar installation should cover 15 to 20 percent of the schools' energy needs.
"It's a huge leap forward," Larpenteur said.
•Geothermal heating pumps: Installed under the parking lots, these systems help bring up some of the earth's heat in the winter. In the summer, heat from the buildings is pushed back out. It will take about 15 years before the school district sees a return on its money for this system.
Advanced lighting and windows: To reduce lighting needs, the schools incorporated natural lighting with skylights and window walls. This should cut lighting costs by 50 percent, Larpenteur said. The electric lights that the schools use run on a dimmable ballast that keep the light levels in the school constant. They also have added some more efficient LED lights.
The added use of windows required great attention to the glass used. The schools used triple-paned glass, which costs roughly 30 percent more than double-paned, the PUD estimates. It will take the school district about 10 to 15 years for the energy efficiency gains to make up for the extra cost.
"The quality of light is much better," Neroutsos said.
•Smart ventilation system: The schools use "displacement ventilation" systems, which save energy by minimizing the need to circulate air for heating, cooling and ventilation. It uses natural air currents, with warm air moving from low levels to higher levels.
"They're taking advantage of the natural buoyancy of air," Larpenteur said.
This type of ventilation system uses about 40 percent less energy than a conventional one, he said. It's also quieter.
Steven Moore, project manager for capitol projects for Snohomish School District, is enthusiastic about many of the advances at the two schools. Moore, who previously worked for schools in Seattle, believes the Snohomish School District is "taking sustainability to a whole other level."
Still, it will be a while before the district can say it's saving energy. In fact, Moore is still tweaking how the different systems work within the schools.
"It's not always the system, it's also the staff," Moore said.
School staff members have to be trained on how to use the new features, he said. But they've embraced the sustainable features of the schools.
The schools try to impress their focus on sustainability on the students, said Kristin Foley, spokeswoman for the school district. Signs note different structures in the building that were reused from the old schools or are made of recycled materials.
The schools aren't just garnering the praise of the PUD, school district and students. Architecture organizations also have asked for tours.
"It's gaining attention," Moore said.


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