Open, transparent, accountable? Province restricts access to dataTuesday, January 08, 2013 by: SooToday.com Staff
ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSIONER OF ONTARIO
Ontario government can save energy and money in the province's schools
(January 8, 2013) - Ontario's environmental commissioner, Gord Miller, says more money could be spent on in-classroom education, if the Ontario government and the province's school boards improved their efforts to reduce their electricity and natural gas bills.
Miller today released Volume Two of his 2011 Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report.
This report annually reviews reductions in energy usage, increases in energy efficiency, and the progress and barriers to energy conservation.
Volume One of the report was released in June 2012.
The report found that close to $340 million is spent in Ontario to provide heat and power to the province's public schools.
"There is great potential for savings in improving the energy efficiency of schools," says Miller, "and fortunately, energy is one of the few expenses that can be reduced without affecting the learning environment."
The report says the Ontario government had to abandon its goal of reducing school energy usage by 10 percent, because some schools could not measure their energy consumption.
So it launched a Utility Consumption Database (UCD) to collect data on the electricity and natural gas used by every public school in the province.
"It's a well-known maxim that you can't manage what you don't measure," says Miller. "The database is an important tool that boards can use to identify opportunities for schools to become more energy efficient."
The environmental commissioner points to the success of the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), whose data on energy usage showed a wide range in energy efficiency among its schools.
"By replacing windows and boilers, changing lights, and improving heating and air conditioning equipment in just a third of its schools, in a three-year period the board realized a 16 percent reduction in energy usage per square metre, and saved more than $500 thousand annually."
Unfortunately, says the commissioner, the Ministry of Education has decided to keep access to the database restricted to school boards, and rejected a suggestion the ECO made previously to provide open access.
This prevents conservation efforts from advancing to their full potential.
"The ministry and the boards need to sort this out. The ministry says it won't publicly release the information on the energy efficiency of individual schools, because the data belongs to the school boards. But I believe parents, students and community members would like to know the energy performance of their schools."
Miller points out publishing the results could also help school boards improve the energy efficiency of their facilities.
"Companies with expertise in the field could do an analysis of the data, and offer innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency."
The report commended the ministry for its proactive efforts of the past few years.
Because of the database, school boards are significantly ahead of most of the broader public sector in the conservation planning and reporting that will be required of municipalities, hospitals and educational institutions starting this summer.
"The ministry should take the next step, and establish aggressive energy conservation targets for the sector."
A review of three Ministry of Education programs that provide capital funding for school energy conservation will be published in a future ECO report.