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Fuel bills that cost the Earth

New rules mean the race is on to save energy in schools - or pay through the nose. investigates.

UK schools spend around pound;350 million a year on heat and light and release eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Two Government initiatives are set to make schools take this seriously: the Climate Change Programme, which sets a one per cent a year energy consumption reduction target for schools, and from April 1, the Government's Climate Change Levy (CCL).

It is estimated that the levy will add 10 per cent to electricity bills and 15 per cent to gas bills. This could mean that the average secondary school has to find an extra pound;5,000.

Mike Wolfe is chief executive of CREATE (Centre for Research, Education and Training in Energy), a non-profit organisation part-funded by government to promote energy education in schools. He says: "Many schools are still in the dark about CCL, not to mention the big hike in gas prices coming very soon."

CREATE believes that schools could save 10 to 15 per cent of their annual costs, by taking up one of the best-practice initiatives sponsored by the Government, the fuel industry and specialist agencies.

Looking at the fabric of the school building is a good place to start saving fuel, says Andrew Thorne, programme manager for the Government's Energy Efficiency Best Practice programme for buildings. Based at BRESCU (the Building Research Establishment), Thorne and his team also offer the School Turnkey Energy Programme which "aims to encourage a whole-school approach to energy savings". STEP is a free service to school managers and caretakers offering workshops, training seminars, resource packs and expert speakers to assist in cutting waste.

Poor design is another bugbear. Many schools are stuck with Victorian, Edwardian or 1960s designs. High ceilings, large windows, solid walls, ancient heating, and lack of insulation all contribute to energy problems. But a lot rests on people management. Wolfe points to the cleaners who leave lights on to show which rooms have been cleaned, teachers who open windows rather than turn down the heating, and lights which are left on all day.

CREATE has helped to fund energy management systems in many schools, but its aim is for total coverage. There are 50 per cent rebates, up to a maximum of pound;3,000, for schools which invest in energy efficiency measures.

To qualify for the school energy scheme (managed by CREATE as an initiative from the Energy Savings Trust and British Gas), schools have to arrange an internal energy survey, develop a three-year action plan, and demonstrate effective monitoring and evaluation. There is also New Deal for Schools funding from Dfee, which can help pay for capital investment such as new boilers.

Results can be impressive. Needham Market middle school saved pound;800 in the firt year. This followed an energy audit by Suffolk County Council's chief energy officer and resulted in 100 low-energy lighting units being fitted. St Mary's primary school in nearby Benhall also benefited from the School energy initiative. A rebate was awarded for better heating controls and lighting systems, but equally importantly, says headteacher Julia Winyard: "We have enshrined resource conservation in the school's code of behaviour."

This includes Year 56 classwork on fuel usage, while each class has a bin for recycled paper, and vigilant pupils keep a keen eye on dripping taps. This enthusiasm is echoed by Sue Rigby, the manager at Eco-Schools: "We encourage children to take part in decision-making - setting up environmental reviews, targets, action plans and monitoring systems."

Eco-Schools present Green Flag awards to best practice schools and encourage partnership support. With sustainable development as an "over-arching theme" of the national curriculum , there is a big push to produce effective classroom resources.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) produces resources such as Energy Matters - a programme for schools designed to reduce home energy use. Pupils can carry out home energy surveys, then analyse the data for energy efficiency improvements. Each teacher who gets involved in the programme is given a free resource pack, training workshop, and support while they use the resource.

The community approach to energy management is echoed in the work done by Groundwork, an umbrella body for 30 national regeneration and education programmes. One of these is the Esso YES (Young Energy Savers) project.

Supported by Esso UK, the programme aims to help primary schools reduce inefficient use of energy through an energy-education and energy-saving programme. It aims to involve the whole school community in reducing consumption and altering practice.

Rigby believes that schools can shape the attitudes of the next generation. "We can encourage five year-olds to be more aware of energy use and waste management; they are going to be householders in 20 years."

The stakes are high. According to Schoolenergy, if all 34,000 schools in Britain took energy-efficient steps, they could make annual savings of pound;52m and 1.2 m tonnes of carbon dioxide - a lot of hot air.stand P31 * CONTACTS

CREATE Award, for Sustainable Energy,, E-mail: (Schools Turnkey Energy Programme) Tel: 01923 664656E-mail 0800 7000 Gas (in partnership with the DETR and the Energy Savings Trust) runs a national energy efficiency competition for 7 to14-year-olds. Tel: 0645 650 650

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