Audit identifies causes for electricity spike

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BEACON FALLS — An energy audit of Woodland Regional High School pointed to an outdated energy management system as the main cause for a recent spike in electricity costs.

“Our management system that we use cannot handle what we need in order for us to be more energy efficient,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

Electricity costs at the school, which is roughly 170,000 square feet, jumped from $250,595 in the 2015-16 school year to $300,172 the following year, a nearly 20 percent increase, according to an energy audit conducted by Sarracco Mechanical Services. Electricity usage increased roughly 26 percent over the time, the district paid less per kilowatt hour in 2016-17.

The region, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, paid $242,756 for electricity at the school in the 2014-15 school year.

The board last year hired Sarracco for $34,000 — half of which was paid through the Energize Connecticut program — to determine what caused the spike in costs.

The energy audit reported that nearly all of the school’s air handling units and roof top units are in are need of some repair beyond maintenance, including broken or loose belts. All the heat and air conditioning coils were clogged and restricted air flow by 50 percent in some cases, the audit states.

The return air ducts were also clogged restricting air flow 25 to 50 percent, according to the audit.

Yamin said the district moved forward with $9,000 in work to clean the ducts and air handlers.

The audit also states that nearly all of the air handler units, exhaust fans and baseboard controls were in override, meaning they were always on and never shut off.

Director of Facilities and Maintenance Stephen Martoni told the Board of Educating in January the energy management system, which he described as inefficient and outdated, is experiencing mechanical issues and telling the handlers to turn off, but they aren’t turning off.

The Johnson Metasys system was installed in the school in 2000. The school opened in 2001.

Board of Education Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella said the system was the top of the line at the time Woodland was built.

“It’s not that the system has failed us,” Cretella said. “I don’t want the public to think that the system somehow was not good. At its time, it was the best that you could get.”

The audit also pointed to inefficient lighting.

With the exception of a couple stairwells, the lights in the school are fluorescent or CLF bulbs instead of more efficient LED lights.

Yamin said the outside lights were changed to LEDs a few years ago, but the interior lights weren’t changed.

Martoni said the lights aren’t automated so that they turn off when there’s no movement. He said the lights in the stairwells are always on.

Yamin said two contractors said the energy management system can’t be fixed and it’s time for a new one. He said officials planned to meet with the architects and engineers working on installing air conditioning to some of the air handler units to discuss what options are available for systems to ensure it works with the air conditioning being put in.

Yamin said the work can be done over a few years and some of the work could be paid for through the Energize Connecticut program. He said if all the recommended work is done it could save $82,000 a year in electricity.

1 COMMENT

  1. As far as the EMS goes…

    Air handlers that don’t shut off are not indicative of mechanical issues, but indicate there are communication issues with the EMS. Likely, a trunk of the N2 bus is not communicating – this may actually be an issue that has been going on for some time. The communication problem could be fixed by repairing the N2 Bus – and would not necessitate a full changeout of the EMS.

    Indeed, the existing Metasys system – which communicates via Johnson N2 – could be slowly migrated over to a BacNet system ( Johnson’s BacNet product line is now called “Facility Explorer”).

    I would exercise caution in changing out the EMS, in that, whatever product is installed should not be a proprietary product line. There should be a system installed whereby multiple contractors are available to service the system, as well as multiple sources for procuring parts. This would give Region 16 a choice of contractors to award a service contract for maintenance – thus maintaining a competitive environment similar to that which exists during a competitive bid process.

    25 Hp motors that run 24 hours a day can obviously run up operating costs. This is not necessarily indicative of an outdated EMS system, but one in need of repair.

    For starters, the front end could be upgraded to a Tridium N4 platform (up-to-date and web-enabled). The existing field controllers are likely still operational and, quite probably, could remain.