With utility costs projected to rise, LA Unified looks for energy savings

A solar installation at L.A. Unified's Clinton Middle School.
A solar installation at L.A. Unified's Clinton Middle School.
Courtesy of LAUSD

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The cost of supplying electricity, water and natural gas to Los Angeles Unified schools could increase nearly twice as fast over the next three years — by perhaps 22 percent — as they did over the last three years.

The faster increase is largely driven by a rate increase from the city's Department of Water and Power (LADWP), district officials said, which could push L.A. Unified's bills to the city utility $24.2 million higher by 2019.

But in a recent update to board members, an L.A. Unified official said the district may be able to cut those bills in half. Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter said he's hopeful a program to install new, more energy-efficient lights and a state-backed effort to replace less-efficient motors and switches could save the district roughly $12 million in utility costs over the next five years.

The district is already counting on roughly $6 million in annual savings from 66 solar panel installations across the district.

Hovatter said LADWP officials have told the district the energy savings from these initiatives could be even higher — perhaps even enough that the district would not see any cost increases.

“There’s a lot of discussion back and forth between us and DWP,” said Hovatter. "They’re a bit more optimistic about what our savings is going to be — in fact, they predict we’ll get $24 million in savings so, ‘What are you complaining about? Everything will wash.’

"We’re not as optimistic,” Hovatter added. "However, these numbers are optimistic compared to what our history has been for our savings; we’ve spent a lot of money and not gotten a lot of return."

Hovatter said these cost-saving measures come with a bonus: the more energy-efficient motors are likely supplanting equipment the district would need to replace anyway — but the district isn’t paying for the replacement since the money is coming, in part, from the state’s Prop 39 energy conservation program.

By 2018, the district projects it will be spending more than $156.6 million on utilities — with most of that going to LADWP. In 2014-15, L.A. Unified spent roughly $123.5 million on utilities.