Students look to combat high energy costs at Whitman

By Sarah Tong

Junior Nikki Widra sits in her eighth period English class, shivering because she didn’t bring a sweatshirt; most of her other classes are overwhelmingly hot. But across the school, junior Audrey Pechilis sits in her Physics class in the sweltering heat, wishing she had worn shorts even though it’s February. 

Many students and faculty members are familiar with the uncomfortable — and odd — temperatures at Whitman. Not only are classrooms physically uncomfortable, but it’s also harmful to the environment.

“My classroom is either too hot or too cold, never in between,” AP Psychology teacher Marisa Del Savio said. “And having the AC on at all times causes it to be so dusty since the air filters are seldom changed.”

The Energy Management Systems Committee, a part of MCPS’s maintenance division, controls the heating and cooling systems that are designed to provide a balance between occupant comfort, use and energy efficiency. To achieve this balance, the committee conducts systematic retro-commissioning, a process to modernize energy management controls and correct control failures. EMS also provides hardware, software and network support for all energy management workstations, servers and controllers.

The county controls the temperature set for all of its public schools, Whitman business administrator Elizabeth Hillard said. The standard MCPS temperature during the heating season and the cooling season is 70°F and 76°F, respectively.

During the 2018-19 school year, Whitman consumed 2,264,033 kWh of electricity. The average American household consumes 10,972 kWh of electricity, meaning that the amount of electricity used at Whitman can power more than 200 American homes.

The level of student and staff participation in saving energy has the most impact on the electricity bill at Whitman. This participation has a direct impact on the amount of energy saved. Active collaboration between the students and staff in the School Energy and Recycling Team program is vital to occupant comfort and achieving energy conservation goals. And each of our actions can make a significant difference in reducing energy use at Whitman, said Giancarlo Rodriguez, the Bethesda schools SERT facilitator.

“Students and staff can have an immediate and direct impact on two-thirds of the energy consumption by simply turning off lights when classrooms are unoccupied, unplugging equipment not used, keeping doors, windows, and blinds closed,” he said. 

Last year, Whitman’s Geology club met with principal Robert Dodd to advocate for the addition of solar panels, which the school installed during the summer before the 2019-20 school year has helped reduce the monetary expense of energy at Whitman. Partially due to the solar panels, Whitman’s electricity cost in the 2017-18 school year was $277,638, while in the 2018-19 school year it was $277,638. 

Junior Alissa Weisman is one of the leaders of the Geology Club. She’s extremely passionate about climate change, she said and has participated and led many marches in D.C, including the D.C. Climate Strike last year. When she decided to meet with Dodd last year, it was mainly because MCPS had cut the usage of nonrenewable energy, she said.

“Now that we have solar panels, a portion of our energy is clean energy, and we can be more self-sufficient,” Weisman said. 

Although changing certain policies may seem out of our control, there are daily routines like closing the windows, turning off the lights and simply spreading awareness that can help reduce the cost and usage of energy at Whitman. 

Something as simple as turning off the lights or closing the windows can make a big impact.  If everyone was aware and acted on it, we could all help save the environment and also minimize costs, Weisman said.