For 12 years, San Diego's schools have led national efforts to curtail energy costs and create eco-friendly facilities. Here's what managers have learned along the way.

Faced with tightening budgets and skyrocketing utility costs, school districts across the nation are rethinking their strategies for curbing energy use in facilities.

Since 1994, the San Diego City School (SDCS) district has been fine-tuning a highly successful energy-efficiency strategy that includes promoting conservation, installing a district-wide energy management system, and experimenting with alternative energy technology, including photovoltaic roofs. The plan has worked. In 1994, the district spent about $14 million on utilities, says William Dos Santos, the district’s director of maintenance and operations.

“And that’s what we’re spending now, 12 years later,” he says. “Had we done nothing, we anticipate that our utilities bill would be about $28 million a year.”