Officials, administrators gather to share energy ideasby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
As local officials prepare for likely state budget cuts, many of them gathered in St. Cloud Thursday to exchange ideas on how to conserve energy and save money. Officials from local and state government, school boards, and townships participated in a conference co-sponsored by the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
St. Cloud, Minn. — More than 350 people listened to the energy savings ideas of Gary Sims. Sims is principal of the 7th through 12th grade school in the MACCRAY School District in West Central Minnesota.
The MACCRAY district serves students in the small towns of Maynard, Clara City, and Raymond, and it's the only school district in the state with a four-day school week. Sims said the biggest factor in shortening the week is to save money.
"Well, we think we're going to save $85,000 at the minimum every year by going 4 days," Sims said. "The biggest savings being in the busing costs."
Sims said his school district is conserving energy and saving money in several different areas, including electricity and water use. Sims said the school district estimates it will save $65,000 in transportation costs alone.
"Energy costs [money] and this is just another costs saving method that we have because schools are really struggling for money at this point in time," Sims said.
Sims notes that local voters rejected a referendum in November. He said if another one fails this year, his school district will be in dire straits.
Schools aren't alone in trying to meet their budgets with fewer resources. Jeremy Germann is the city administrator for Wells in Faribault County. Germann said the small city of 2,500 people is making great strides in its energy efficiency wherever it can.
"Well, with such a small budget every dollar really counts a lot," Germann said.
Germann said a few of the city's buildings went through energy audits. The city invested in more efficient heating and cooling systems.
"Although the upfront cost for replacing some of these units was somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, we found that we're going to be able to pay that back in less than five years in drastically reducing the amount that it takes to heat and cool our public buildings," Germann said.
Organizers of the energy conference say this is a good time for people to get together to brainstorm and exchange ideas. They point out that it's crucial to conserve energy in a volatile market with likely state budget cuts and a national recession.
Craig Johnson is with the League of Minnesota Cities and he said these energy savings are critical for cities and counties.
"Energy costs are something that, if you reduce them, it's an ongoing savings, not a one time savings," Johnson said. "So it really can make a difference in whether you need to cut staff or other services if you can save enough on energy costs. It might preserve some other essential services you need to protect [also].
Johnson said cities and counties may have some money to invest in these energy saving ideas with a pending federal economic stimulus package that, if approved, could directly give local governments community block grants for energy conservation.
- All Things Considered, 01/22/2009, 5:55 p.m.