Behold, the power of the motion sensor.

A story out of Wisconsin over the weekend contains a small number that may not be very eye-catching: $35,244.

That’s how much the town of Howard, near Green Bay, has saved so far on its electricity bill since setting up an energy conservation task force in 2008. The town underwent an energy audit through the state’s Focus on Energy program, and identified minor infrastructure and behavior changes to save power.

The town’s power bill in 2008 was $121,705. Now, it’s down to $86,461. That’s a reduction of nearly 30 percent – a remarkable achievement, considering most efficiency programs measure success in single digits.

It’s also real money, and cash-strapped city officials are looking for ways to save more.

And last week, Dale Bryk, blogging for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote about a school district in Ohio taking similar measures. The Lakota school district, in suburban Cincinnati, is embarking on a pilot solar lease project that will save $50,000 a year. Bryk writes that districts statewide will save $8.6 million per year through energy saving programs alone.

Is that going to solve the schools’ budget crisis? Not by a longshot. But it helps – for the Lakota district, which has already had to cut dozens of staffers, it may mean laying off one less teacher.

It’s important to think of these smaller programs not in terms of their individual, relatively small savings, but in the aggregate. One town in Wisconsin saving $34,000 isn’t that big of a deal in the scheme of things, but what if every town did it?

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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