Fast Five: A conversation with the superintendent of Ionia Public Schools on energy efficiency projects that pay for themselves

Ron Wilson, Ionia Public School District Superintendent

The Michigan Agency for Energy recently interviewed Ron Wilson, superintendent of the Ionia Public School District, about his involvement in energy efficiency projects that cut the district’s energy waste and bills. This school district is the only one in Michigan to have ENERGY STAR certified buildings and LED lighting paid for, in part, by a rebate from the Michigan Energy Office. Watch the video for more information.

How did your interest in energy efficiency develop?

I started my career as a licensed builder in the early 80s, when we really tuned into ways to be more energy efficient. When I became a principal and superintendent, I started looking at energy efficiency at the district level.

Before you became Ionia Public School’s superintendent, you served as superintendent at Cass City and Howell schools. What was your experience with energy efficiency project at that time?

At Cass City, I oversaw my first energy conservation project. It was highly successful. A federal program available at that time allowed us to get a very low interest rate. We saw about $1 million worth of work done, and the energy savings paid for it.

At Howell, we had about $6 million worth of work done at no cost to taxpayers, paid for through energy savings guaranteed by a performance contract.

At Ionia, I was able to demonstrate how an energy performance contract could pay for much of what was needed and prove to taxpayers that we were being good stewards and fiscally responsible.

Why did you pursue ENERGY STAR certification?

We are working on ENERGY STAR certification on a building-by-building basis. We are teaching a new generation of kids. We want to make sure they understand that we don’t have unlimited resources.

What did you find most challenging?

The challenge is the tight window to get a lot of the work done — about 10 weeks. Lighting and plumbing projects were able to be done on the second shift, when students were not in the building, but bigger items like boilers need to be done in the summer.

What would you tell other school districts considering energy efficiency projects?

I think it’s something that all districts would benefit from.

The process of staring energy efficiency projects at a school is not intimidating at all. Companies like Honeywell, Johnson Controls and Chevron will do a lot of the leg work and explain to you what the potential savings are for each project. It does not cost anything to have that done.

I encourage other schools to talk to others who have already completed energy efficiency projects.