January 26, 2022

Plans for Sustainability in the Schools To Be Detailed at Upcoming Events

By Anne Levin

In past years, sustainability was not a high priority for Princeton Public Schools (PPS). But recent efforts to make the four elementary schools more energy-efficient, and plans to continue that work at the middle school and high school, have signified a change in focus.

Sustainable Princeton and PPS want members of the public to know about the improvements that are in place, and help brainstorm some new ideas for those to come. A Zoom presentation on February 16 will detail current efforts, and a town hall on March 16 will give the public an opportunity to identify which kinds of sustainability programs they feel are most important.

“These are the first sustainability efforts in the schools in recent years,” said Jenny Ludmer, program manager for Sustainable Princeton. “The objective is to educate the community about everything the school district has been undertaking to make the schools more energy efficient, and what the plans are for the future.”

Utilizing New Jersey’s Direct Install program, “we were able to pay 20 cents on the dollar for energy efficiency upgrades throughout the four elementary schools,” said Matt Bouldin, business administrator for Princeton Public Schools, in a press release.

David Harding, director of plant and operations, said the middle and high schools come with a hefty price tag because of their intense energy use. “But that means they are ripe for significant energy savings,” he said.

Older buildings present a particular challenge in improving energy efficiency. “There are ways to do it sustainably, and ways to just keep managing the buildings the way they are,” said Ludmer. “The goal here is to do it sustainably.”

State programs such as Direct Install help with the transitions. “So mainly, it’s just a matter of steering through the processes the state has in place,” said Ludmer. “It can be a challenge in terms of paperwork and keeping the focus, but we certainly have seen other schools successfully take this on.”

For the upcoming upgrades, the district is considering an Energy Savings Improvement Plan (ESIP), a financing mechanism that allows schools in New Jersey to make energy-related improvements to their facilities using the value of energy savings that result from the improvements. “In other words, ESIPs allow public schools to finance new energy-efficient infrastructure at no cost to the taxpayer,” said Bouldin.

With new roofs on each school, the district plans to install solar panels utilizing a power-purchase agreement (PPA). “Most schools utilize a PPA to get solar because it avoids a capital expenditure or a referendum,” said Bouldin, “and we get to reduce our utility bills.”

The district is also looking into electrifying its fleet, and bringing workplace charging to one or more of the schools. “Each of these areas requires outside funding, but we are eager to apply for existing grants while also seeking additional opportunities,” said Bouldin.

There will be a limited opportunity for questions at the February 16 webinar. The second event is more of a brainstorming session, and suggestions are welcome. To register for the February 16 webinar, which will be held at 6:30 p.m., visit princetonk12.org. Details about the March 16 event are to be announced.