It’s far too early to say Horry County’s investment in energy-efficient schools has failed the grade, but the results to date certainly haven’t been impressive.
As you may remember, the Horry County Board of Education scrapped plans to build five traditional schools two years ago when Robbie Ferris of Firstfloor Energy Positive made a convincing argument to utilize energy-saving techniques to make the new schools virtually self-sufficient.
The idea, as I understood it, was to build schools that would use solar panels to generate enough electricity to power the schools. In fact, there was even talk of the schools generating enough electricity to sell it back to utility companies.
I must admit the idea had some merit. It costs a lot of money to pay the electricity bill for schools. It costs about $230,000 a year to power a traditional school.
The new schools are projected by Ferris to spend $40,000 to $60,000 for electricity, a substantial savings.
However, an examination of the electric bills for three of the new schools does not reflect that kind of savings. Ten Oaks Middle School, for example, had an electric bill in September of about $11,500. During the same month, two traditional schools of similar size to Ten Oaks Middle had similar bills. Ocean Bay Middle had a utility bill of $13,153, and Black Water Middle’s bill came to $14,921.
Neither school had the energy-saving features of Ten Oaks Middle School.
So, where is the savings?
School officials are backpedalling, saying now that they never thought the new schools would be energy self-sufficient.
Joe Defeo, an advocate for energy efficient schools during the bidding process for the new schools, said “there was never, ever anyone who believed there wasn’t going to be a bill.”
Maybe. But I always thought the schools were supposed to produce enough electricity to pay all, if not most of the monthly electric bills.
School board member Janet Graham also believed that at some point the schools “would balance out and break even.”
Contractually, Firstfloor’s new schools must produce at least one kilowatt-hour more energy than the schools use on an annual basis.
It will be interesting to see if these expensive energy positive schools live up to this expectation. A year from now this newspaper will take another look at the electric bills, hoping that promises of energy savings will have materialized.