Captain Kilowatt Rescues Energy Dollars

Friday, November 21st 2008, 12:05 pm
By: News On 6

By Scott Thompson, The News On 6

SAND SPRINGS, OK -- Loren Stephenson does some of his best work at night. 

"Captain Kilowatt is the nickname I've been given when I'm here. I don't know what they call me when I'm gone," said Loren Stephenson.

He longs for darkness.  Craves it, really, as he prowls the hallways of Sand Springs' 11 school buildings.

"Every place gets checked at least once every 10 to 14 days," said Loren Stephenson.

He looks for thieves:  sneaky energy thieves, thoughtless computer monitors, and mindless thermostats.  His night job is to take them down.  Way down.

"We look at everything," said Loren Stephenson.

And, in return, the school district can take back the cash they've been stealing from the school kids of Sand Springs.  Cash, which before Captain Kilowatt came along, was just floating away.

"It can be spent on books.  It can be spent on athletic supplies.  It can be spent on teaching supplies.  It can be spent in any number of ways," said Loren Stephenson.

Captain Kilowatt's day job is 7th grade assistant principal at Boyd Middle School.  But, as the district's energy czar, he's never off the clock when it comes to cutting waste.

And, when it comes to waste, The News On 6 asked Stephenson which is a bigger energy drain, heating or cooling?

"Cooling is a bigger energy drain.  It takes more to cool the warm air, at least in Oklahoma, than it does to heat the cooler air," said Loren Stephenson.

Armed with only purple and gold slips of paper, he cuts energy waste by slowly trying to change old habits.   Turn off everything you're supposed to turn off, get a gold slip.

"I turned off my computer and had everything turned off.  Air conditioning and everything turned back where it was supposed to be.  And, the lights off, computer and monitor screen turned off.  So, we get this when we do that," said Diane Stephens.

Changing human behavior to cut energy use is the business plan of Energy Education, a Texas company that contracts with school districts, universities and mega-churches.  Using their blueprint for the past four years, Sand Springs has cut its spending on electricity, gas and water by 20%, saving more than $762,000.

Among the company's other Oklahoma clients, Bristow has cut its bills by 32%, saving more than $103,000.  In Hilldale, there's been a 30% savings.  Fort Gibson has saved 20%.  Tahlequah's cut its spending by 25%.  Stillwater has saved over a million dollars.

Jenks, an Energy Education client for almost ten years, has saved almost $7 million.  And across the OSU system, they're expecting a seven-year savings of at least $22 million.

"Mr. Cole is big into energy conservation and recycling. And, this is one of our programmable thermostats. So, we set this so there's an occupied time, an unoccupied time. There's an occupied temperature and an unoccupied temperature," said Loren Stephenson.

According to Captain Kilowatt, 76 degrees is ideal in the warmer months and 68 degrees during the winter.  He'll tolerate 72 in late autumn.

"And when the kids come in if I need to turn it down a little bit that's fine but only when it's occupied, I turn it off if I'm not using it," said teacher Mr. Ken Cole.

Mr. Cole gets a gold slip.

But, it's 70 degrees in Lisa Seay's classroom.

That means Captain Kilowatt will send a note to the principal, who will then contact the teacher who wasn't in compliance.  He'll also leave her a note letting her know her thermostat was set too high.

When asked about her violation, Mrs. Seay had a defense.

"Because I tend to jump up and down a lot when I teach, and I have to be kept cool or I go bad like milk," said Mrs. Lisa Seay.

Still, Captain Kilowatt claims a 90% compliance rate district-wide.

"In most places, if you get a 90-plus compliance rate your ecstatic. And it's the kind of thing that takes time to build up. Eventually this will be second nature to everyone. Eventually, it will be," said Loren Stephenson.

None too soon for the Captain, who now can't shake the zeal he's developed for zinging energy bills.

"I go into restaurants, businesses and I don't say anything to anybody, but I immediately think, look at all the waste here," said Loren Stephenson.