By Tracy Correa
REEDLEY — In 100-degree-plus heat, Peter Gallegos spent a recent Tuesday climbing on top of classroom buildings at Great Western Elementary School – a farm community about 25 miles southeast of Fresno.
He and his crew of technicians from Valley Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing in Fresno have been working at a frenzied pace to provide thorough tune-ups on more than 400 HVAC units at Kings Canyon Unified School District sites – 22 schools total.
It’s a massive, one-time undertaking that this rural school district – where 87 percent of its 10,000 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch – would not have been able to afford if not for a special PG&E program called AirCare Plus.
Saving the equivalent of two teaching positions
Ron Hudson, Kings Canyon Unified’s deputy superintendent, says the program is saving the district much-needed money as the state budget ax continues to fall.
“This program was able to save for us $100,000 immediately, which is the equivalent of two teachers,” said Hudson. “In addition to that, we will save money on our energy bills.”
The school district won’t pay a dime for the upgrades because AirCare Plus – a third-party PG&E-funded program — will cover expenses. The program is one of 50 programs in PG&E’s third-party portfolio, one of many the utility can use to help its customers save money.
Since its launch in 2002, AirCare Plus has upgraded 30,000 HVAC units at businesses — including schools — saving 78 million kilowatt hours of electricity.
The program helps businesses save energy and money by optimizing HVAC performance through comprehensive diagnostic tune-ups designed to improve the efficiency and longevity of the units.
Putting money into the classroom
Two other Central Valley schools already have been helped, said Cheryl Marcelli-McClaine, a senior customer relationship manager with PG&E who helped Reedley’s Kings Canyon Unified.
“PG&E’s philosophy in working with school districts is that we don’t want the money to go towards the PG&E bill, we want the money to back to that classroom,” said Marcelli-McClaine. “And so, by making that environment comfortable, it helps with student learning.”
Marcelli-McClaine said studies have shown that the proper lighting can actually improve student performance. “So, all of this work hopefully makes that environment more comfortable so the teacher can do what the teacher needs to do — and that is to facilitate the learning environment and help students achieve to their best level.”
Hudson said Kings Canyon Unified needed the HVAC work done, but with limited staff and funds, routine maintenance often fell by the wayside.
School officials commend Marcelli-McClaine for helping the district as it tries to reduce its carbon footprint with energy-efficient upgrades – retrofits that nearly always carry upfront costs.
In addition to the AirCare Plus program, she has worked with the district to qualify for about $1 million in energy efficient retrofits – the first of several planned upgrades — at a half-dozen school sites through PG&E’s On-Bill Financing program. The program allows for improvements without large outlays of cash — PG&E finances the projects and the interest-free loans are repaid through the customer’s monthly utility bills.
“By having this HVAC servicing done at all of the school sites, not only will it help units run more efficiently, it’s also going to hopefully keep the classroom cooler and make it more comfortable for the students to have the best learning environment possible,” said Marcelli-McClaine.
Email Tracy Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org.