The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) a $100,000 grant that could lead to substantial reductions in energy usage and operational costs for existing schools and schools that are planned for future construction. The department’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs created the program, formally known as the Energy Champions Leading the Advancement of Sustainable Schools Prize (Energy CLASS Prize), to assist school division energy managers to identify, plan and carry out energy efficiency and health upgrades in schools throughout the U.S.
ACPS is one of 25 school divisions in the nation, and the only division in Virginia, to be selected for DOE’s Energy CLASS Prize. The $100,000 Phase 1 award is for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Phase 2 of the program will extend the program through May of next year and includes the possibility of $50,000 in additional funding for ACPS. The program’s second phase will concentrate on how school divisions can plan, execute and maintain improvement projects prioritized by their schools.
In a news release announcing the awards, DOE said the Energy CLASS Prize program advances its mission to streamline investments in clean energy workforce development, which it describes as crucial to achieving its goal of net-zero emissions for the nation no later than 2050.
“This support from DOE will enable us to develop new skills in reducing energy usage and costs and in identifying alternative funding strategies for additional improvements,” said Lindsay Snoddy, the division’s Director of Building Services. “Despite continuing upgrades to the efficiency of our mechanical systems, we can do much better in reducing our energy consumption and in training our staff and students to identify opportunities for savings,” Snoddy said, adding, “This grant especially is timely for a division such as ours, where student enrollments are continuing to expand. Much of our capital funding budget is devoted to expanding or enhancing existing schools and the construction of new schools to accommodate the space needed to support all the students we serve. Finding ways to accelerate our conservation of energy without the need for major capital budget investments frees up more resources for supporting students.”
In addition to the training, Snoddy singled out the broader opportunities her department’s energy managers will have through the program to learn more about best practices in the industry. In 2022, the division spent $3 million on energy, based upon its use, for instance, of 106 million BTUs, 96,000 gallons of fuel oil, and 21 million kilowatt hours of electricity. Collectively, the school division produces nearly 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Apart from the Energy CLASS Prize grant, the division also is competing for $15 million in federal funding for an expansion of its use of geothermal heating systems similar to the one now in operation at Crozet Elementary School.
In its news release, DOE noted its focus on including schools in economically disadvantaged communities, based upon the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price student meals. Two of these Title I schools in the division, Journey Middle School and Greer Elementary School, were chose by the school division as immediate priorities for energy management projects. Together, energy expenditures for the two schools totaled $215,000 last year.
John Coles, the division’s Environmental Program Manager, said the first step in implementing the new grant will be training sessions with DOE and industry experts for the department’s energy management team later this summer. In addition to staff, Coles said the school division’s team will include high school student interns.
“In its news release on the Energy CLASS Prize, DOE expressed a strong interest in having this grant assist in the development of a talent pipeline for young people. Today’s students are obviously going to be instrumental in enabling our nation to achieve its net-zero emissions goal in future years,” Coles said, adding, “We anticipate there will be strong interest from our students.”
Offering internships to high school students aligns with the division’s newly-established career learning communities, which will begin operating in the new school year. These communities, which include Environmental Studies, for example, will allow students to explore core content through real-world problem-solving brought to life in the classroom. They will connect educators, students, families, and community partners to broaden learning and career development opportunities for students.
CONTACT: Phil Giaramita, Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Officer