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Four schools encourage family energy reduction pledges

Partnership with SMECO to encourage conservation

Friday, March 20, 2009

Students from four elementary schools have a chance to make money for their schools and help their parents save money on their electric bills in the process.

Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative partnered with St. Mary's public schools to pilot an energy conservation program at Benjamin Banneker, Lettie Marshall Dent and Lexington Park elementary schools as well as Chesapeake Public Charter School.

"Energy consumption is something that is near and dear to our heart," said Jeff Shaw, SMECO's environment and energy conservation manager. Energy conservation can start with educating children who bring that information to their homes, he said. "We're here to promote environmental consciousness," Shaw said at a school board meeting last week.

Students at the participating schools learn about energy conservation through assemblies, class lessons and energy conservation actions. Each student can take a pledge statement home to sign stating the family will work to conserve energy.

After returning the pledge to school, SMECO will mail an energy efficiency kit to the student's home. The kit will receive three compact fluorescent light bulbs, a faucet aerator and a low flow shower head, one packet of switch plate insulation, a LED nightlight and a furnace whistle that lets homeowners know when the filter is clogged.

SMECO will also give to participating schools $25 per household for every signed pledge.

Barbara Eddy, principal of Dent Elementary, said this fits with the school's quest to become a Maryland green school.

"We're hoping everybody will get on board," she said. The school has already launched a recycling program to cut down on lunch trash and will hold an assembly for the SMECO energy pledge program later this month.

"We talk about our children as stewards of our future, the environment … This all ties in to our school system message," Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

Loretta Durdock, the school system's energy manager, said the pledges will be handed out next week during assemblies at the four schools. "The goal is to get 50 percent participation, but I think we're going to have better than that," she said. "It dovetails nicely with what we've been working on with the kids in terms of changing behaviors" regarding electricity usage, Durdock said.

"We'll all benefit in the reduction of [energy] usage," said Austin J. ‘‘Joe" Slater Jr., president and CEO of SMECO.

Slater said the cooperative calculates the return on its investment in energy conservation programs, and there is "almost a 3-for-1 benefit associated with this program," he said.

The partnership comes at a time when many ratepayers are searching for ways to trim their electric bills.

Earlier this month two state Senate panels held a hearing after hearing thousands of complaints from Maryland residents about large, unforeseen increases in electricity bills. Utility companies, including SMECO, put the increases mostly on this year's colder winter.

This winter other electricity companies in Maryland distributed compact fluorescent light bulbs by mail and charged customers at prices higher than the bulbs cost in retail stores. This piqued some lawmakers, who lambasted the Public Service Commission for its poor initiative in the bulb distribution program. "We are under a state mandate to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015," Slater said last week. SMECO benefits from the energy pledge program by reducing power purchasing costs and increasing reliability.

Staff writer Alan Brody contributed to this report.


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