Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

How hot was it at Dixon to save 66% on heating? What are they doing with their water?

Elmbrook, Energy, TAXES

I have been tightening our belt at our house thermostat wise and enjoying it less! I'm miserable. The thermostat is set at 68 during the day and 50 - 55 at night. For someone who is always cold (me), even in the summertime, this is a sacrifice. 

So when I read that Elmbrook was saving money because of the energy sleuth, it caught my eye.  

I am all for energy savings. Sometimes this requires a specific person to investigate. As Dave Ross said, were picking up nickels all over. In other words, the big easy places to save were already remedied. But to save 66% at Dixon, a new school (presumably with newer, more efficient boilers) I have to wonder what their thermostats were set at and did they turn them down when the building wasn't occupied?

Elmbrook's energy savings are good, but could be better

Changing habits could cut electricity usage

Posted: Jan. 7, 2009

Elmbrook has curbed district-wide natural gas consumption by an estimated 30 percent since June 2007, though electricity use has neither increased nor decreased during the same period, officials said.

Jim Henderson, district energy manager, said there’s more work to be done.

“Overall, we’ve made progress, (but) I’m not satisfied with the progress we’ve made,” Henderson said. “There’s more out there that we can do.”

The reductions in energy use are the result of an ongoing district effort to save money by consuming less gas and electricity. Officials hope to reduce energy usage by 10 percent from the amount used during the 2006-07 school year.

Utilities cost Elmbrook about $1.6 million annually. Henderson said some experts estimate as much as a third of energy used by school districts is wasted or inefficiently consumed.

Dave Ross, district director of facilities management, said wasted energy represents lost educational funding.

“Our resources are supposed to go toward educating kids, not toward utilities,” Ross said.

Efficiencies help save energy

So far, the biggest energy savings have come from tightening up heating and cooling schedules in district buildings. Henderson, Ross and the maintenance staff at each of the district’s 13 facilities worked together to re-write automated schedules that regulate building temperatures.

Elmbrook’s maintenance staff has also started choosing energy-efficient replacement parts instead of the cheapest options when doing repairs.

However, only so many problems can be solved by swapping out systems or re-scheduling run times. Ross said 15 percent to 20 percent of the total utility cost is user-controlled.

To address this problem, Ross and Henderson are educating district staff about the importance of keeping unnecessary equipment and lights turned off. For example, Ross estimates that computers left on overnight or during breaks cost about $20,000 each year.

“We have a tremendous user education issue,” Henderson said. “Old habits are hard to unlearn.”

Future improvements planned

Ross said the next major step will be eliminating the electricity demand charge, which accounts for roughly half the utility costs at Brookfield Central and East high schools. The charge, about $5,000 a month per high school, is a penalty for a demand spike, which Ross said often occurs around mid-day.

Ongoing renovations at the high schools will bring 40 percent more efficient heating and cooling systems. Ross said the new systems are expected to heat and cool the larger buildings at the same cost as existing systems, which do not have air conditioning. Heating and cooling costs account for about one third of the utility bill.

Henderson said he hopes to eventually address inefficient lighting, which will require more funding. Some buildings have areas that are over-lighted by as much as 40 percent, he said. Lighting accounts for about a third of the utility bill.

For now, the district will continue installing motion sensors to help keep lights off in unused rooms.

To evaluate the energy situation at each building, Henderson will continue three-day audits at each facility. During the audits, he looks for possible efficiency improvements, educates staff members and listens to ideas. Officials have already employed suggestions from staff, students and district residents to help save energy.

A little goes a long way

While some efficiency improvements can be large and potentially costly, Ross and Henderson said a huge part of district energy waste is made up of many small inefficiencies.

“Rather than picking up dollars, we’re picking up a lot of nickels everywhere,” Ross said. “Every little bit helps.”

Once the original 10 percent reduction goal is met, the program will continue to evolve, Ross said. Henderson said many of the obvious improvements have already been made, so reductions will be smaller in future years.

Ross estimates about $30,000 has been spent so far on the energy reduction program, including Henderson’s $22,578 half-time salary. So far, Henderson estimates a savings of more than $30,000.


Isral DeBruin can be reached at (262) 446-6608.


Top electricity usage reductions by percentage







Top gas usage reductions by percentage






Pilgrim Park


I dug out some of my archived Elmbrook budget reports and started looking to see if Dixon stood out compared to the other schools. This is what I found...


Then something else caught my eye: water and sewer usage. Tonawanda has no water charge I'm guessing because they have a well? They probably would have higher electrical use then because of the pump.

But why is Dixon using so much water? Could it be their boilers are running inefficiently and discharging water too often? They would have an increase in boiler treatment chemicals then too.  Sewer costs are up as well.

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