Districtwide Energy Efficiency Projects Position Denver Public Schools As Decarbonization Leader in Public Education

In 2016, Denver Public Schools (DPS) partnered with McKinstry to execute its first energy efficiency project at Northeast Denver High School, Montbello. The $3.8M Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) was the first project in what would become an ongoing effort to improve learning environments across the district. The Montbello project included HVAC retrofits, boiler and chiller replacements as well as the implementation of building controls upgrades. McKinstry was selected as DPS’ energy efficiency partner for our unique approach to developing high-performing buildings and our willingness to guarantee energy and cost savings.

ESPCs provide DPS with a budget-neutral solution to achieve optimal learning environments for their students and the opportunity to plan for future resiliency and sustainable operations. In 2020, the district expanded the DPS ESPC project by $31M to include an additional 26 facilities with 17 serving as solar PV sites. When completed, the expansion project will boast almost 4M sq.ft. of upgraded space with HVAC retrofits, new lighting and up to five MW of renewable energy generation capacity.

While leadership at DPS has been working to decarbonize, the City and County of Denver is implementing its own programs and legislation to drive its goal of transitioning the city to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. One program driving that mission is the Renewable Denver Community Solar Program; with 11 community solar garden installations across the city. McKinstry is proud to collaborate with the city on this initiative as its renewable energy partner. The program launched with former Mayor Michael B. Hancock in 2022 at the National Western Complex.

The city’s latest community solar garden installation — a 309 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) carport with electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure — took place at DPS’ Northeast Early College High School. The Northeast Early College High School provides students of diverse abilities and backgrounds with equitable access to earn college credits towards an associate degree and experience career and technical education pathways. The high school was chosen for its location and opportunity to align solar PV technologies with the educational curriculum.

“Denver Public Schools is an ideal partner for the city’s Renewable Denver Community Solar Program, connecting students with opportunities to boost long-term resiliency across Denver in unique ways that benefit all residents,” said Dr. Alex Marrero, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. “The Northeast Early College High School array provides paid training opportunities for clean energy jobs, student internships and hands-on classroom activities while promoting zero-carbon energy generation for our communities.”

The community solar program increases community resiliency while addressing environmental equity in low-income communities. When complete, 45% of the generated electricity from the 11 arrays will support low-income households through DPS and the Denver Housing Authority. DPS is working with Energy Outreach Colorado to connect low-income households with available solar energy. The result is expected to save participating families $700 a year on average. The city recently announced a 12th site at McKinstry STEM mentorship partner, Abraham Lincoln High School.

In addition to executing capital improvements and uplifting STEM education, DPS leadership recognized the power of engaging its Climate Champions and staff districtwide to further their Climate Action Plan. To achieve the desired level of occupant engagement, the district chose to implement, powerED, a behavior-based energy awareness program. McKinstry’s powerED program is a highly collaborative occupant engagement program with three customized modules: people, process and performance. The People module educates building occupants about the importance of energy efficiency and environmental impacts; the Process module identifies and implements low-and no-cost operational and maintenance strategies while the Performance module tracks, measures, analyzes and quantifies energy savings and carbon reductions. Since the implementation of powerED at DPS in 2020, the district has seen an 18% energy use reduction and saved $169,000 in annual utility costs.

These impactful efforts reflect the city and district’s commitment to not only micro learning environments but the community at large. Thanks to DPS leadership’s dedication to implementing cost-effective energy efficiency projects, their goal of transitioning to renewable electric energy by 2030 becomes increasingly more attainable. For over ten years, McKinstry has been proud to support the Denver community in building safer, more resilient communities and learning environments that will keep residents and students engaged for years to come.


Denver, CO



Services Provided:

Building Controls Optimization
HVAC, Mechanical and Plumbing
Solar and Renewables

Square Footage:

3.8 million SF

Buildings Impacted


Northeast Early College Principal Jennifer Warren on connecting environmental sustainability and education

Northeast Early College High School’s Community Solar Garden
Northeast Early College High School’s Community Solar Garden

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City and County of Denver and Denver Public Schools energize 309 kW Community Solar Garden at Northeast Early College