"They're like a shelf that hangs off the outside of the window," Heinen said. "Usually they look like they're decorative, but they actually perform a function."

CHPS schools also save money on maintenance costs because they involve many automated functions.

"A good example is waterless urinals. If you install waterless urinals, the way they're designed, water doesn't flush through them. The maintenance staff doesn't have to clean them every day," Heinen said. "We also require training of the maintenance operation staff so they know how to maintain and operate them."

Solar Schools
Heinen said CHPS schools typically saved from 30 percent to 40 percent on their energy bills, compared to schools of similar sizes and locations.

The New Haven Unified School District (NHUSD) in California built Conley-Caraballo High School, a CHPS school in 2005 in Hayward. Roughly 85 percent of the school's electricity comes from its solar power facility.

The system cost roughly $840,000 but the school district only paid $440,000. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the district's local utility, gave it a grant of $263,087, and state solar incentives covered the remainder.

The district estimates that the solar system will save roughly $40,000 per year, taking it roughly 10 to 12 years to recover its investment. The system's life expectancy is 20 to 30 years, meaning it will save the district roughly $1 million in the long run, according to estimates.

Enrique Palacios, executive director of operations for the NHUSD, plans to bring solar power to all schools in the district. Just as mass federal purchasing of recycled paper dropped the price of recycled paper in the market in general, during the 1970s and '80s, Palacios wants government to do the same with solar power.

"As we in the public sector get into buying more solar, then the cost of solar will drop and make it affordable for everybody," Palacios said, adding that he also embraces CHPS standards as a way to culturally influence kids to value green technology.

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.