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Energy management system helps save time, money for BCPS

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By Tom Wilmoth

    A $7.9 million investment by Bedford County in an energy efficiency project is expected to reap savings in water and energy costs for years, possibly decades, to come.

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    And it’s also providing the framework for more efficient oversight for the heating and cooling systems in several county schools. Eventually the plan is to bring all of the county’s schools into a new technology-based system that allows the HVAC units to be controlled from offsite locations through the energy management system.
    That suits Charlie Peterson, the school system’s Clerk of the Works, just fine.
    The county entered into the contract with NORESCO for the energy efficient work a year ago and the dividends are already paying off, even as the work continues. “This (energy management system) allows us to control our  buildings  (heating  and air) without having to actually go to them,” Peterson said.
    Initially the management system will cover Otter River Elementary as well as Staunton River Middle and High schools. Several other schools—including Jefferson Forest and Liberty High schools—should be able to be brought online rather quickly. Eventually, the plan is to have all of the county’s school buildings included.
    The management system allows Peterson and the maintenance staff to analyze and control the workings of the heating and air units at those schools from a remote location. Previously if a change had to be made to the schedule and temperatures utilized at a building, a member of the staff would have to go to the actual building to adjust the settings.
    But not any more.
    And if there is a problem, the system automatically sends out a text message to Peterson and the maintenance staff. If needed, the technicians can set up the system to bypass a boiler that is down and utilize another one so that no rooms are left without heat or air.
    The new system allows Peterson, or a member of the maintenance staff, to see, online, a layout of the HVAC units and any problems that may be occurring. Sometimes those problems can be addressed without ever having to actually go to the school. At the very least, it saves a tremendous amount of staff time by analyzing the problem and showing technicians exactly what needs to be fixed. In addition, Peterson can make any changes to the heating and air conditioning calendar for the schools, all from the comfort of his own desk—or his own couch, for that matter.
    Really, any remote location will do. Theoretically, a technician who is on vacation could address a problem while hundreds of miles away, if needed.
    The system shows the temperature settings, it shows how dirty an air filter is and if it needs changed, and it shows the position of the outside dampers and can actually move them if they need to be changed. In essence, the entire HVAC system can be monitored.
    The work NORESCO is providing includes infrastructure improvements to all of the school buildings as well as three county buildings. Though the cost is $7.9 million, it is actually revenue neutral, in that the company guarantees more than $600,000 in savings every year. That allows the project to pay for itself in just 13 years.
    The project has also included upgrades to lighting in all of the schools—some 23,000 lighting fixture replacements—as well as installing low-flow toilets and urinals. Staunton River High School has received a new boiler plant and some schools are also receiving new windows and other repairs.
    NORESCO specializes in the development, design, construction, financing and operation of energy and environmental efficiency projects.
    The project also includes weatherization work and roof upgrades. The building and school enhancements will improve the learning and work environment for students, teachers and staff. Construction began at the end of April 2012, and completion is forecasted for October 2013.
    But it is the energy management system that makes Peterson smile. With three technicians trying to cover 21 schools, the energy management system saves time. “It gives us a lot more flexibility,” Peterson said.