SAN MATEO, Calif. - When the San Mateo County Community College District first went looking for energy savings in 2000, the school district had no idea just how valuable the search would be.

The district, which includes the College of San Mateo, Skyline College, and Canada College, was spending about $2.2 million on energy costs each year - enough electricity and natural gas to serve 2,500 homes. In addition, it was facing the possibility of having to replace much of the infrastructure built in the 1960s - such as heating and cooling systems -- that was nearing the end of its useful life. Taking this step would have cost more than $40 million.

The district chose another, more cost-effective route - upgrading selected aging equipment rather than replacing entire systems outright. Now, after dozens of small but highly efficient improvements installed at 46 buildings on three campuses, the district has modernized its infrastructure for less than $21 million. The district reduced its energy costs by more than $1 million annually, alleviating pressure on its operating budget.

Chevron Energy Solutions, developed, engineered, and installed the upgrades for the district, including energy-efficient lighting and electrical systems, boiler improvements, chilled water systems, air handling and conditioning systems, pipe and pumping systems, energy management controls, and real-time metering. In addition, the company installed two new cogeneration units, which will reduce the district's need for purchased power.

"Finding these energy savings was like striking gold," said Ron Galatolo, district chancellor. "Through the upgrades we've installed, the district has been able to reduce operating costs and renovate much of its infrastructure at a much lower cost than we originally expected."

The energy efficiency improvements, funded by utility rebates and voter-approved bonds, will reduce the district's annual electricity usage by 22 percent, or more than 2.8 million kilowatt-hours per year. They also will lower natural gas use by 15 percent. The balance of the energy savings will come from the cogeneration systems installed at Skyline College and the College of San Mateo.

Publication date: 11/29/2004