Sooner or later, federal stimulus money will start flowing through the federal government to the state and then to local political subdivisions. The “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on January 28, 2009, contains some significant provisions for schools, including a proposed $141.6 billion for education investment.

A component of that proposal includes the 21st Century Green High Performing Schools program, which would provide grants to modernize, renovate or repair school buildings. As currently drafted, 25 percent of those funds must be spent on “green” projects. Other provisions of the bill include incentives for “Quick Start” activity, or shovel-ready projects that can be started within months of the enactment of federal laws.

The stimulus bill is currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, and there is no way to predict what the final legislation might look like, or when it might pass. It is also impossible to predict how the state might distribute any funding, if and when money does arrive. Regardless of these unknowns, districts can take steps now to be prepared for federal stimulus money, state money or any number of possible funding sources that will surely be available at some point.

There is no doubt that a growing number of funding sources are becoming available, especially where “green projects” are involved. Now is the time for districts to start planning for green projects to be in the best position to react quickly and lock up funding as it becomes available.

In California, where electricity costs about 60 percent more per kilowatt hour as it does in Ohio, Green Strategies Client Bulletin No. 02-05 Green Strategies Client Bulletin school districts have been wrestling with these issues for years. In December 2008, the California State Architect issued a guidance document called Grid Neutral: Electrical Independence for California Schools. Compiled by experts in the areas of education, energy, finance, nonprofit and government groups, the Guide outlines a stepby- step plan for schools to achieve substantial energy savings with little to no capital cost.

While some portions of the California model may not work in Ohio, the Guide’s road map and practical tips for planning green projects translate well to an Ohio market. This Green Strategies Client Bulletin focuses on a four step plan for schools to become “grid neutral,” or to produce as much electricity as is consumed over the course of a year. The next Client Bulletin, will focus on funding options to achieve grid neutrality without substantial upfront capital expense.

Step One: Comprehensive Planning

Planning is identified as the most crucial step for both existing and new construction. Once the decision is made to go grid neutral, the next step is to create the team, establish a critical path, and evaluate project delivery methods.

The Dream Team. The “dream team” consists of three general groups of people: the Sponsors; the Beneficiaries; and the Implementers.

  • The Sponsors: Sponsors are the promoters or champions of the project. They include school board members, community stakeholders, utilities, research entities or universities, and government agencies.
  • The Beneficiaries: Beneficiaries include those who will use the grid neutral campus, like students, teachers, and administrators, as well as taxpayers who will realize cost savings.
  • The Implementers: Implementers are those involved with planning, coordinating and construction of the project. They include school facilities planners, energy consultants, finance and legal support, architects, engineers, the construction team, Energy Service Company (ESCO), suppliers, manufacturers and a commissioning agent.
  • Others: In addition, the Guide notes the importance of other roles in the project success. Custodians, school staff, local fire officials, unions, educational organizations, law enforcement, and legislative representatives will all play a role and assist the dream team in its efforts.

Critical Path. The Guide suggests the following five steps for the dream team to follow for long-range planning:

  • Establish a baseline of current electricity usage.
  • Set performance goals.
  • Develop the electrical power master plan.
  • Develop a district wide program that thinks ahead 30 or 40 years and includes an analysis of life-cycle costs.
  • Create a preliminary plan that defines program goals, sets an overall strategy for meeting goals, includes a financial strategy and life-cycle analysis, recommends a delivery method and considers maintenance and operation.

In order to properly size and price the necessary systems, the planning process must include proper measurements and benchmarks. Benchmarking current usage is done by reviewing monthly electric bills and tracking those on a spreadsheet or with a software program. Several software programs are discussed in the Guide, such as Portfolio Manager and Target Finder. Many ESCOs or other vendors can also provide these services.

Step Two: Energy Efficient Design

Step two begins after the school district has identified its electricity usage and benchmarked performance goals. Whether the buildings are being renovated or newly built, best practices, rating systems and other criteria are available to help a district plan its project. The Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS) offers two certification programs and publishes a six volume best practices manual. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) also provides a rating system and reference resources. Some critical planning considerations include:

  • Programming: Programming should be included in a written plan document and describe the needed space and size of school areas, times and days when those areas will be used, and consider specialty areas, like gymnasiums and kitchens.
  • Site: Building orientation to maximize sun exposure and landscape shading should be considered when siting a new building. Consideration should also be given to combined community use of space, geothermal pipe locations, passive solar design features, and building density.
  • Building: Design of the building envelope would consider insulation, weather stripping, use of integrating walls into the building mass, daylighting and clerestory windows.
  • Systems: Planning should include energyefficient lighting and HVAC systems, which should involve occupancy sensors, interlocking controls and daylight harvesting. Using an outside commissioning agent or considering alternatives to a traditional HVAC system, like a geothermal system, can further reduce energy costs.
  • Furnishings, Fixtures and Equipment: Spaces in schools that use a large amount of electricity, such as the kitchen or workshops, should be targeted. Energy efficient appliances and automatic shut offs for computers and monitors should also be planned.

The Guide identifies the top five design measures with the highest return on investment for existing schools as: 1) use of daylighting; 2) heat avoidance; 3) natural ventilation; 4) high-efficiency HVAC systems; and 5) appliances, plug loads, and special equipment.

Step Three: Energy Generating Technology

Districts should consider several issues when choosing different types of energy-generating technologies:

Photovoltaic (PV) Systems: The Guide describes several different options for PV systems, including ground-mounted, roof mounted, shade structure, building integrated, and stand alone structures.

Solar Thermal: Solar thermal applications, such as hot water, pools, and space heating/cooling are referenced.

Geothermal Heat Pumps: Geothermal technologies use radiant heat to warm or cool, can reduce energy costs by 10 to 60 percent, have lower maintenance costs and low life-cycle costs,

Wind Technology: Depending on the amount of wind available in an area, a school district could achieve significant energy reductions or enter into a financial arrangement with a local community or wind farm.

Educational Opportunities: The Guide notes the potential for incorporating alternative energy technologies into the classroom curriculum through various suggested activities.

Step Four: Maintenance and Operation

Strengthening the district’s maintenance and operations (“M&O”) program is discussed in Step Four of the plan and includes methods for involving staff throughout the planning and building process and using M & O evaluations to make the project more successful. M&O staff should be involved in all stages of the project to help evaluate existing performance goals, policies and procedures, the role of teachers, and existing energy efficiency criteria.


Ohio schools and other political subdivisions are all seeking lower energy costs without a substantial capital expenditure. The steps outlined above set a framework for evaluating and implementing an energy efficient school district that should prove beneficial for your district as it gets ready for federal stimulus money or any green project. The entire guidance document, Grid Neutral: Electrical Independence for California Schools, can be found at: