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CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 reduced its carbon footprint by 38 percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2017.
The level had been equivalent to about 3,750 metric tons of carbon dioxide, largely because of vehicle use by about 400 employees, bus transportation, electricity and heating.
The number has since dropped to about 2,250 metric tons, according to the Cumberland Climate Action Team, which has worked with the Siemens Co. of Scarborough and SAD 51 staff to implement improvements.
One key change during that time is the district’s 2015 move from fuel oil to natural gas, CCAT Chairman Denny Gallaudet said in an interview Oct. 12.
A typical Cumberland home produces about 20 metric tons of CO2 annually through heating and motor vehicle travel. SAD 51’s 2015 carbon footprint was the equivalent of about 200 homes, and now is down to about 115, Gallaudet said.
“This is the progress they’ve made, which is pretty darn remarkable,” he said.
The climate team aims in the next 13 years to reduce Cumberland’s carbon footprint by 50 percent, according to cumberlandclimateactionteam.org.
The district spent nearly $867,000 on energy in fiscal 2014, but that dropped to nearly $574,000 in fiscal 2017, which ended June 30.
The $3.9 million energy service company project is being funded over 15 years, having started with fiscal year 2015. Thanks to the reduced energy expenditures, the district expects to realize a savings of about $552,000 after all project debt is retired, according to Siemens.
“The whole purpose of the … energy project is to take the savings from the electricity or the oil, or whatever energy, and pay for the project cost,” Poulin said.
“Siemens does calculations each year to make sure we’re getting our payback,” he added, noting there is a penalty to the contractor if the project is not showing savings.
The project has been geared toward reducing SAD 51’s carbon footprint while upgrading capital items like lights, domestic hot water, boilers, building envelopes, and air handling units. This summer saw new air conditioning and heating systems installed at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School. The upgrade was meant to address temperature issues in the approximately 20-year-old building.
The school’s new heat pump system is “the lowest-cost form of heating in Maine today,” Gallaudet said. “They’re also, from a carbon footprint (perspective), a total home run.”
“This is one thing that Democrats and (governor) Paul LePage agree on,” he added with a laugh.
Savings in energy costs are diverted toward the project’s debt service, according to Scott Poulin, the district’s director of finance, human resources and operations.
Grant funding has also aided the district in its energy efficiency endeavors. A $1,500 grant procured by Gallaudet funded an electric vehicle charging station outside Greely Middle School. The station is open to anyone with such cars.
“The Department of Energy has run studies that show that workplace charging causes employees to be six times more likely to buy an EV than not,” Gallaudet said.
“We have in our capital plan this year the installation of another unit” at Greely High School, Poulin added.
Composting of food waste – students scraping their plates into green, plastic composting containers instead of tossing refuse into the trash to be sent to the dump – is another way the district seeks to be a friend to the environment.
The district last year starting working with Garbage to Garden, a Portland-based curbside composting service, to redirect those food scraps to renew garden soil. Single-sort recycling is offered in the schools as well.
SAD 51 formed an environmental stewardship committee as part of its strategic planning process, to kick off such initiatives and foster a desire early on in the youth of the Cumberland-North Yarmouth districts to be green and clean.
“It gets the kids involved,” Gallaudet said, praising SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter’s interest and commitment “to getting environmental stewardship into the curriculum, and the teaching and learning environment here. What better way than scrape off your plate?”
Echoing those sentiments, Porter said, “I really do believe that kids are going to be the wave of the future for this,” noting that while adults are learning the green culture, with youths “it becomes intuitive.”
Showing off an electric vehicle charging station Oct. 12 outside Greely Middle School in Cumberland are, from left, SAD 51 Facilities Director Don Foster; Scott Poulin, the district’s director of finance, human resources and operations, and Denny Gallaudet and Eric Fitz, members of the Cumberland Climate Action Team. SAD 51 has reduced carbon emissions by 38 percent.