School district now saving $32,000 annually

OSCEOLA — It’s never too early to teach people about energy efficiency, and in Osceola, students and community members are getting a firsthand education. By adding solar panels and thermal blankets to the middle school’s pool complex, the district has saved taxpayers $32,500 annually.

A prior energy review showed Osceola’s four schools were responsible for more than 70 percent of the energy used by the community’s public buildings. The solar panels and thermal blankets added to Osceola’s middle school pool complex in 2008 have reduced its energy usage by a remarkable 96 percent, saving $32,500 per year. The thermal blankets also reduced evaporation from the pools, saving 20,000 gallons of water per month. That’s one less day of pumping from village wells each year. Plus, it reduces the amount of pool chemicals used and how long dehumidifiers must run.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the cascade of benefits and savings from the pool project,” said Osceola energy coordinator and school board president Timm Johnson. “We hope that our experience is something that other schools, YMCAs and other institutions with pools are able to learn from and apply to their particular situations.”

And now, school officials and residents are eager for more. On January 26, the village and school boards met jointly to discuss next steps, including increasing their energy efficiency, renewable energy options and sustainability efforts. Osceola officials also agreed to consider making the village an “eco-municipality.” Nearly 30 communities across Wisconsin have already passed eco-municipality resolutions, which establish a sustainability framework to evaluate and improve policies and practices. The school and village boards are also inviting the public to a February 18 meeting, where community members can learn how they can become involved.

“Officials and community members understand that not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also saving us money,” said Johnson. “In some ways, becoming an eco-municipality would simply recognize the commitment Osceola has already demonstrated to sustainability. But it would also ensure that we consider all the costs of our actions to maximize the social, environmental and economic benefits for our residents.”

Osceola’s energy efficiency accomplishments have been widely recognized by environmental groups, including Clean Wisconsin and RENEW. The community’s energy planning process was supported by Wisconsin’s Office of Energy Independence, as part of the goal of obtaining 25 percent of the state’s electricity and transportation fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

Focus on Energy, the state’s largest energy efficiency and renewable energy agency, provided significant technical and financial support to multiple energy-savings projects in Osceola schools. “We can’t say enough good things about Focus,” said Johnson.