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Energy savings could yield $600M for Philly schools

The Philadelphia School District on Monday announced it would launch an energy-savings program that could ultimately yield at least $300 million — money that would go to pay for some of the system’s $4.5 billion in deferred capital projects.

Officials estimated they could also cut their energy costs in half. Over 20 years, improvements from things like new green roofs, boilers, windows and lighting could save the district $600 million, they said.

The work would not cost the district a penny, officials said — a system called “energy performance contracting” will allow the system to use the savings to fully fund the capital work.

It will also improve conditions in a school system whose aging buildings often hamper teaching and learning for 17,000 employees and 130,000 children.

If a three-school pilot program to begin in the fall is successful, the program could go citywide, though a whole-district project would likely take 10 years or more to complete. Over time, the school system could reduce its energy consumption by 50 percent, officials said.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, and other officials made the announcement Monday at Lankenau High School in Roxborough, a building where thermostat issues mean part of the building is too warm and part is too cold — leading to wasted energy.

When the School District said this year that it had a backlog of nearly $5 billion in deferred maintenance projects at its more than 300 schools and other buildings, a lightbulb went off for Clarke, he said.

“I thought, ‘Maybe we, with the Energy Authority, could be of some help,’” Clarke said. He has championed the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, a 10-year project to complete energy savings projects in small businesses, low-income homes, city buildings and schools. It could also create 10,000 jobs, Clarke said.

The jobs for the larger city project would be created for workers to complete the energy improvements; make products for those improvements; and gain work because the savings from those improvements have been invested back into the economy, Clarke has said.

Other school systems have undertaken such projects, but none on the scale envisioned in Philadelphia, said Emily Schapira, executive director of the Philadelphia Energy Authority, the independent municipal agency leading the charge on the energy campaign. San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland, Ore., have all used energy performance contracting; locally, the Norristown Area School District also completed millions in capital improvements using one.

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