February 23, 2022

Sustainable Princeton Teams With PPS To Improve Schools’ Energy Efficiency

By Donald Gilpin

In terms of energy efficiency the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) are underperforming, but help is on the way in the form of a partnership with Sustainable Princeton (SP). The two entities have developed a variety of plans for progress on multiple fronts.

Working together for the past five months, PPS and SP have created a  “sustainability timeline” for the PPS facilities department, focusing on energy, transportation, natural resources, materials management, and resiliency.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the district to help them achieve their sustainability goals,” said SP Program Manager Jenny Ludmer at a February 16 Zoom webinar devoted to sustainability in the schools. “Our mission is to inspire the community to develop and implement solutions that positively impact the environment.”

In a 30-minute presentation Ludmer outlined what is currently known about PPS buildings through a benchmark and carbon footprint analysis; plans for the future, including the sustainability timeline, plans for solar and greater energy efficiency, and workplace charging potential;

and progress on updating Sustainable Jersey certification for schools. A question-and-answer session followed.

On March 16, from 7 to 9 p.m., PPS and SP will hold a World Cafe town hall meeting with the public invited to discuss new ideas and to explore what sustainability programs are most important to the Princeton community.

Ludmer pointed out that the district is now using Energy Star Portfolio Manager, the industry-leading benchmarking tool, to measure energy use in the six district school buildings and to compare to similar buildings nationwide.

With a score of 50 representing median performance, all the schools, as of August 31, 2021, fell short, with Princeton High School at 42, Riverside at 40, Littlebrook at 25, Johnson Park at 20, Princeton Middle School at 18, and Community Park at 17.

“The goal is not to depress anyone,” said Ludmer. “The goal is to say, ‘Now we know. Now we have a picture of our energy performance, so what can we do to improve it?’ I’m excited that the district is thinking that way.”

Ludmer noted that Community Park and Princeton Middle School both have high natural gas consumption relative to their building size and added that SP is continuing to investigate Community Park’s high use of energy and water. In addition to electricity and natural gas consumption the analysis also includes transportation, water use, and food waste. 

Already well on the way to improvement, all four elementary schools, as of last summer, have new LED lighting throughout the schools, dozens of new HVAC units and upgraded water heaters, with the New Jersey Clean Energy Program Direct Install Program covering 80 percent of the cost. 

Princeton Middle School and Princeton High School are not eligible for funds from the Direct Install Program, but the district is currently investigating opportunities to use an Energy Savings Improvement Plan, a New Jersey financing mechanism, to fund energy efficiency projects at the middle and high schools.

Also on the horizon, though still about two years away, is an extensive solar energy initiative for the schools. “Solar is definitely on our radar,” said Ludmer. “Now that the referendum has passed, roof work will begin this summer, and we have to wait for that to be complete. But by 2024 we can begin to bring in solar panels.” She added that the district is eligible to use a purchase power agreement to finance a solar panel system without any upfront costs.

Another energy-saving prospect on the agenda is electric vehicle charging stations at PPS. “We could be one of the first in the state if we could find avenues to do this,” Ludmer said, pointing out that there are more than 60 electric vehicle models available in this area, more than 600 public charging stations in the state, and a number of tax incentives.

Other initiatives the PPS and SP are working on include making landscaping equipment more efficient, transitioning where possible away from gas power, and exploring better ways to manage the Princeton High School Ecolab and its wetland native plant species.

Ludmer went on to note that the schools are working towards certification through Sustainable Jersey. All six schools are still registered in Sustainable Jersey for Schools, but their certifications have lapsed and must be renewed. Students and staff are documenting their schools’ energy efficiency, energy tracking and management, carbon footprint, and district sustainability policies in order to reclaim certification. “Certification brings bragging rights, sustainable grant opportunities, and a wealth of resources,” Ludmer said.

Also on the job are green teams at the schools, which are working towards certification and other sustainable goals. Princeton Middle School, the only district school without a green team at this point, is “waiting for someone to step up,” said Ludmer. “If you are a parent there get in touch with Sustainable Princeton. I’d love to see green teams active at every school.”

A number of issues and ideas arose during the question period following Ludmer’s presentation. Challenges of composting, efforts to avoid single-use packaging, including plastic and Styrofoam materials; promoting biking and walking to school; addressing a lack of personnel, faculty and staff; and enhancing environmental education were all discussed by the webinar participants.

PPS Business Administrator/Board Secretary Matt Bouldin praised the SP-PPS alliance. “We are so thankful that you’ve helped lead us and keep us pointed in the right direction toward our goals,” he said. “It’s been a great start to this relationship. We have a lot of work to do and we’re really committed to it.”