Siemens offering county savings

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big savings can be made in the cost of energy for the schools, but only if the Marshall County Commission agrees to the project outlined by the Siemens Company.

School board members on the panel's maintenance committee heard about it from Siemens representative Kirk Whittington at their meeting Thursday night. It was one of several presentations by the company.

Back in November the full school board agreed to go forward with an "Energy Savings Performance Contracting Program." This means that energy efficient facility improvements are installed with no up-front costs, are paid for out of guaranteed savings from the existing operating budget.

Changes that are proposed to reduce utility costs include: different lighting; water conservation with aerators on faucets and toilets that use less water; and fans to prevent the collection of hot air at high ceilings.

Now the detailed study has been done, bids have been received and contractors lined up, and the final proposal stage has been reached.

Whittington explained that the schools' energy budget (currently $1.4 million per year) would stay the same, but instead of all of it paying for electricity, gas and water, some of it would be paying off the debt that had been incurred to pay for the energy-efficient improvements that Siemens would make.

That's called "budget neutral." It's a way to make improvements to the school buildings without asking the taxpayers for more money, Whittington explained.

In the case of Marshall County, the school system would be financing just over $2.6 million, and paying it back over nearly 11 years.

"If you have less than a 20 year pay back in the state of Tennessee you're doing really good," Whittington said.

There are also incentives from the Tennessee Valley Authority for reducing consumption of electricity, and there is a state grant for changing to energy-efficient lights.

"Is there any doubt in anybody's mind that this is a worthwhile project?" committee member Craig Michael asked.

"It's a no-brainer," exclaimed committee chairman Randy Perryman.

"You also have to talk to the county commission," Whittington cautioned. "They've got to keep you whole with the 1.4 million."

He also noted that in order to get major work done over the summer vacation, major items - such as new boilers for Lewisburg Middle School and Spot Lowe Vocational School, and new HVAC units for Cornersville High School, Forrest School, and Westhills - must be ordered by the end of March.

"The county commission handles debt service for education," schools budget director Janet Wiles said. "Debt is handled at the county level."

The Board of Education might not be legally able to make debt payments out of its budget. Wiles said.

Michael agreed, adding, "We're almost spinning our wheels without the commission giving the OK on this."

School Board members then turned to County Commissioner Billy Spivey, chairman of the commission, who attended part of the meeting.

"Do you see a problem with the commission?" Perryman asked Spivey.

"I'd be crazy to stick my neck out and say," Spivey answered. "I wish I did have that kind of influence."

Perryman pressed: "Will you recommend it to the commission?"

There was a pause while Whittington explained to Spivey what he had missed at the beginning of the meeting.

"You're either paying the utility companies or getting improvements to your schools - that's the simple choice," Whittington told him.

"The commission," committee member Barbara Kennedy said, "would balk at committing to 10 years of the budget as it is."

"They need some exposure to it," Spivey said.

Whittington said he would rather explain the project to small groups of commissioners - the budget, education and building and maintenance committees - first, no matter how many trips he had to make here from Sumner County, rather than go "blind" into a meeting of the whole commission.

The school board's lawyer will be contacted for advice as soon as possible.

"I think it's not illegal for us to do," Wiles said. "I think it's the way its always been done."

The committee voted unanimously to recommend to the board that they go forward with Siemens.

"It would surprise us if the Board was not in favor," Michael said.