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UNITED: School board weighs energy plan to save money

by on March 05, 2014 10:50 AM

ARMAGH — Directors at United are considering looking into an alternative energy opportunity that could bring the district substantial savings.

The board on Tuesday heard from Schneider Electric Energy Solutions representative David Kramer on how performance contracting for the high school could be beneficial to the district versus low-bid contracts.

Performance contracting, also known as the Guaranteed Energy Savings Program, allows the district to make upgrades to the facilities “in an energy-savings type of manner,” including lighting, the buildings’ heating system and building controls — anything that consumes energy is a good candidate for performance contracting, Kramer said.

Kramer said United’s high school is a good candidate for the program after performing a walk-through and examining the district’s different systems and conducting more than a year’s worth of utility analysis.

Currently, Kramer said, almost half a million dollars is going to a utility company when it could be going back into the school.

According to an executive summary, factoring in all utilities, Kramer said, the district spends close to $430,000 in a given year. Over half the cost, “the real offender,” Kramer said, is the fuel bill, which tells him that “the building is not being optimized … to the best of its potential.”

Kramer said if the district were able to save what he considers “a very modest” 20 percent of the district’s energy costs, it would equate to about $1.3 million over 15 years that wouldn’t need to go to outside utilities, with all or at least a significant portion of that money being reinvested back into the building through upgrades such as new lighting and building controls.

The savings potential depends on how the district chooses to set up its upgrades and projects, Kramer said, adding that there’s a possibility that it could be a budget-neutral concept in which the district breaks even.

“It’s up to the district; we can work our scope around” what the district chooses, Kramer said, adding that it’s important to have a collaborative process between Schneider and the district as far as what the district wants to achieve.

“There’s a wide range of how the district can approach this,” he said.

In terms of BTUs, or British thermal units, Kramer said they expect to see an efficient school operating closer to 65,000 BTUs per square foot. The average school Kramer said he has done assessments for is in the range of 70,000 to 80,000 kBTUs per square foot.

United’s assessment, according to Kramer, is 132,000 BTUs per square foot, which “borders on possibly the highest usage I’ve come across” and is one of the reasons he’s stayed engaged with the district over the last few years.

Kramer referenced the approximately 50 steam traps across the building along with its “antiquated” lighting. From a maintenance perspective, “they’re doing what they can … but the systems they’re dealing with have limitations,” mostly having to do with the steam traps not functioning the way they’re intended, and the control system, he said. Most schools, he added, are now going to electronic or direct digital controls.

“There’s a lot of opportunity and probably a lot of run time in this building that’s unnecessary or after-hours,” he said.

One of the differences about the program, he said, is that it’s turnkey, meaning an energy-services company, or ESCO, like Schneider Electric, would handle all aspects of the project, from the initial conversations and investigations/studies to engineering, construction management and subcontractor agreements. The only part they don’t do is any physical install, such as lighting, he said.

“Anything you can think of is the sole responsibility of that ESCO,” Kramer said. “That’s going to be a little bit different than you may be used to, having to bid out to various groups,” he said.

Kramer said Schneider Electric would be the single source of accountability to the district.

“If you’re having trouble with performance, on savings or equipment, there’s one party responsible for that,” he said, adding that “we are not bound to the low-bid route,” ensuring that they have good-quality contractors working on the district’s facilities and not having to go through change order after change order on projects.

Another difference with performance contracting, Kramer said, is that “the price you see for whatever project is packaged is a fixed-price contract.”

“If something is missed … and it happens, that’s on the ESCO,” he said.

He also said the guaranteed energy savings is the other key part that helps ensure that the district has the funds to pay for the project. If there’s a shortfall and the energy savings are not occurring, he said, the ESCO would write a check to the district for the difference.

For example, if the district was promised $100,000 in savings and saw only $80,000, the district would be reimbursed $20,000 “because you’re counting on that money to make your payments for the upgrades,” Kramer said.

Board members agreed to add to the March 11 agenda a motion to approve a letter of interest to have Schneider engineers come to the district and do a “deeper dive,” at no financial obligation to the district, and come back with a narrowed focus of savings potential and upgrade recommendations. The district will then decide whether to go ahead with performance contracting through Schneider Electric or stay with its current utilities.

Schneider Electric has a strong presence in Pennsylvania, with close to 40 projects statewide. Nationally, half of Schneider’s clients are K-12, the company’s target market, with rural schools being the “bread and butter,” Kramer said.

Also during a brief special meeting Tuesday, the board tabled motions regarding a nurse aide position.

The first motion was to consider a memorandum of agreement between the district and the United Education Support Personnel Association to include the position of nurse aide in the bargaining unit with secretaries, aides and custodians; to establish terms and conditions of employment for the nurse aide position for 2013-14 and 2014-15; and to modify the current collective bargaining agreement between the district and the association to include the nurse aide position in the bargaining unit and to set forth terms and conditions of employment.

The second motion was to consider approving the transfer of Jill Barbus from her position of building secretary/paraprofessional health room aide to nurse aide.

Board President Don Davis said it was the board’s understanding at the time the agenda was written that it would have the memorandum of agreement between the two sides regarding the nurse aide position. The board found out today, he said, that “we did not have that memorandum of understanding.”

Davis said they are still hoping to get it, but is not sure where it stands, “and at this time, we weren’t comfortable moving forward until we have further clarification regarding that memorandum of agreement.”

Heather Carlson is the wire editor and an assistant web editor for The Indiana Gazette. She covers courts, Saltsburg and Homer City borough councils and Penns Manor and United school districts, in addition to writing feature articles. She can be reached at
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