Claremont Middle School, a small public school near the northern border of Oakland, spends $53,000 on energy bills each year, nearly $130 per child for its 405 students.
A few blocks down the road from Claremont, Oakland Technical High School, a much larger public school with 2,000 students, spends $122 per student each year, bringing the annual energy costs of both schools to $300,000.
Both schools spend more on energy bills than they spend on books and supplies, a situation Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) says is untenable in the current financial environment, in which California’s school districts are losing funding and shutting schools down.
“Thousands of teachers have received pink slips, and yet California schools are spending $1.1 billion each year on energy bills,” Skinner said, “We need to save our schools, make existing buildings better and put money back into the classroom.”
Speaking at Claremont Middle School, Skinner introduced Assembly Bill 1186, or the Saving Energy, Saving Schools bill. The bill seeks to use revenues generated by California’s investor-owned utilities like PG&E, SoCal Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric in carbon emissions permits under the Cap and Trade program to retrofit schools with energy efficient systems.
Proposed improvements include advanced lighting controls, upgrades to heating systems, ventilation and air conditioning, hot water and kitchen appliances among other new energy conservation measures.
According to Skinner, nearly 70 percent of California’s schools have inefficient energy systems designed more than 25 years ago.
“Schools do not control their income, but they can control expenditure,” Skinner said, “This bill allows schools to spend less on energy and redirect their resources to students and paying teachers.”
If approved, Skinner said the bill would save Claremont and Oakland Tech about $60,000 in annual energy expenses. To demonstrate the savings that would result from the passage of her bill, Skinner’s brought a giant five-foot cheque for $60,000 made in the names of the two schools.
If retrofitted, Skinner said, California schools could collectively save up to $300 million in energy expenditures.
Skinner cited the Murrieta Valley School District, which implemented district-wide energy upgrades and saved $420,000 annually and the Antelope Valley High School District, which has cut its energy expenditures by $303,045 following upgrades.
Ian Lesser, a sixth-grade science teacher at Claremont spoke in support of the bill, saying it would allow students to benefit from the very same state-of-the-art energy conservation technologies they are learning about.
“Students do not have to go to a museum to learn about state-of-the-art lighting systems,” Lesser said. “As a science teacher, I would want my students to learn from these processes and also benefit from them.”
Andreas Cluver, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alameda County Building Trades Council who attended the event said retrofitting schools would also benefit the community by creating jobs.
“The passing of this bill would be a quadruple win,” said Cluver. “The first winner is the environment, then our teachers, investing more on students and the reduction of energy expenditures.”
The bill is currently in the Senate Energy Committee and scheduled for debate over the summer. Senate and the Assembly are expected to consider the bill for passage before the end of the legislative session on August 31, 2012.