Langley School District Lights the Way on Power Smart Schools

With smart changes, the Langley School District is lowering costs—and raising awareness about energy use

They say small changes can make a big difference, and for one Metro Vancouver school district, a quite literal small change—half an inch, to be exact—did just that. In 2010, facing a deficit of $13.5 million and rising operational costs for its 40 (and growing) schools, the Langley School District needed to find new efficiencies that would help keep its electricity budget on track. Luckily, the district was already a BC Hydro Power Smart partner, and so had access to some bright ideas.

“When we started looking at energy conservation projects, we saw that BC Hydro could give us significant support,” says David Green, secretary treasurer for the Langley School District. Technical consultants, subsidized by BC Hydro through the Power Smart program, came in and conducted energy studies for the district, identifying several opportunities for greater efficiency. The first step: swapping out all the old T12 fluorescent tube lights throughout the district’s schools for the half-inch smaller, more efficient T8 model—a project that would greatly reduce electricity bills and whose own cost would be partially reduced by BC Hydro cash rebates.

Over the next four years, the district replaced the lighting and fixtures in nearly all of its buildings—including the emergency lighting, which was upgraded to LED. Last year alone, the district replaced 6,973 lamps; that improved lighting, in addition to new occupancy sensors and pulse meters that help track down and eliminate wasteful usage spikes in real time, reduced consumption by 582,000 kw/hours—a $50,000 savings, the equivalent of running two entire school buildings. And the benefits went beyond cost and sustainability. “Everybody likes it—the lighting is more natural,” says Green. “And where the old system had this constant humming, that’s now disappeared.”

Karen Wagner is the Langley School District’s energy manager—a position partially funded by BC Hydro. Under her watch, and with guidance from Power Smart consultants, the district has created and approved an energy policy and strategic plan that will help them gain further year-over-year reductions, and savings. “We create a target every year for BC Hydro, and happily we have achieved it every year,” says Wagner.

For the current year, the district’s goal is to build on last year’s improved efficiency by cutting an additional 500,000 kw/hours. With the lighting retrofit nearly complete, Wagner and her team have turned their attention to the people inside their schools, finding more cost and energy savings through education and training. “The custodians run the schools eight hours a day, so we’re working with them to make sure they are knowledgeable about energy management best practices,” she says. The district is also using BC Hydro’s annual energy reports to show its 19,000 students and 2,500 staff members in a concrete way how much difference their individual actions are making. “The whole process has made people more conscious,” says Wagner. “Turning on a light switch actually costs money, and they have become aware of that—and that translates into everyone thinking of other ways to do things more efficiently or effectively.”