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Cabell schools aid power grid with energy reduction

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- A strain to the East Coast power grid on Wednesday led to corporations and organizations reducing consumption to help avoid blackouts.

That action included the Cabell County School System, which has an agreement through PJM Interconnection, a company that oversees and operates the electricity transmission grid in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

Jedd Flowers, the communications director for Cabell County Schools, said the school system receives $20,000 to participate in the program, and that meant that some lights and computers were turned off in schools and the central office on Wednesday.

The purpose is to avert the possibility of brownouts or blackouts in times when demand on the power grid outweighs supply.

Flowers and others said it did not interrupt the learning process, as was alluded to by W.Va. Sen. Evan Jenkins in an open letter sent Thursday morning to Superintendent William Smith.

"(On Wednesday) power was reportedly cut back to only emergency lighting at Huntington High and Cabell Midland forcing our students and teachers to hold school in less than optimal conditions during part of the academic day," Jenkins said in an email that included the letter. "It is important we know why this occurred."

He said in the letter that he was "surprised and concerned to learn about the ordered power cutback and its direct impact on our students."

"On Wednesday, at 11 a.m., we received a call letting us know that conditions were conducive to possible brownouts on the eastern seaboard due to intense heat," said Chip McMillian, energy manager for Cabell County Schools. "Then, at 12:30 p.m., we were notified an actual event would be taking place between 1:30 and 7:30 p.m."

McMillan says 12 of the district's facilities, including the Central Office, were then asked to reduce their power consumption without affecting the instructional program.

Flowers said the participation in the Demand and Response program does not harm the education process. Instead, he said it provides learning opportunities in the classroom.

Joedy Cunningham, the curriculum principal at Huntington High School, agreed. He also said that it only impacted some of the school day. If teachers and students were not using computers, those were turned off. Exterior classrooms that receive a lot of natural light flipped their switches, which also was the case for the hallways.

"There was still plenty of light," Cunningham said, adding that emergency lights also were on in the hallways.

At 3 p.m., the HVAC systems at 12 schools were shut off as well, Flowers said. That was limited to newer schools that have computerized HVAC systems that can be controlled remotely at the central office.

Cunningham said that also had minimal impact on the after-school programs, many of which already take place outside. And those inside, such as tutoring, went on as scheduled.

Flowers said this is not the first time this has occurred, citing one such reduction during the summer. However, he said it's less common this time of year since widespread high temperatures are more uncommon in September on the East Coast.

"People die in power outages," Smith said in a news release from the school system. "Almost any time a city loses power, you hear reports of deaths, especially among the elderly and medically fragile. If we are able to help with very little inconvenience, I believe it is a duty to our fellow man to do so. It is also a tremendous service learning opportunity for our students."

Smith says the school system has a pre-existing agreement with a third party energy broker. In emergency situations, this broker works with local utility companies, like AEP, to divert power from the local grid to where the need exists.

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