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Advice sought before decision on saving money

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The school board wants legal advice before it asks for another price on how to save money by making school buildings more energy efficient.

That's the officials' conclusion last week.

The system's buildings and maintenance committee heard a presentation from Frank Banks of Ameresco, an independent energy services company, on Aug. 3.

At the board's meeting on Aug. 9, board member Randy Perryman recommended the system get Ameresco to do a study of school buildings.

"We signed a letter of intent with Siemens," Kristen Gold pointed out. "Can we go with another company?"

"Kirk (Whittington, of Siemens) said it was 'unusual' to let another company do a study," Perryman admitted.

"Is a letter of intent not legally binding?" Barbara Kennedy asked.

Schools director Roy Dukes told the board that the letter of intent had been signed on Dec. 1, 2009. He said the intent was to do the energy savings project with Siemens, but it had stalled with the county commission.

"The education committee (of the commission) approved to move it forward," said Perryman. "But it never got put on the (commission's) agenda.

"Would these guys give us a better quote?" asked Ann Tears.

"They sounded good," Perryman replied. "Both companies guarantee savings."

"We'll table it," said chairman Mike Keny. "Get an opinion and come back in September when we have a new commission and a new board in place."

During his presentation to the buildings and maintenance committee in the first week of August, Banks said his engineers could perform a comprehensive energy study of the buildings, and present a detailed project of upgrades for energy efficiency. This is "budget neutral," meaning that the savings on energy bills pay for the cost of the upgrades, he said.

"We are number one because we are good at what we do," Banks said. "We are experts. We believe in what we do."

Ameresco would also help find sources of funding, including zero percent loans, and Tennessee Valley Authority incentives.

"We will find you funds," Banks assured committee members, noting that the only thing his company could not work with was a school district in bankruptcy. "We have technical people expert at going out and finding you money."

Banks was enthusiastic and apparently impressed the committee, since it voted unanimously to recommend Ameresco to the full board.

"We will give you a good project - no ifs, ands or buts about it," Banks said.

He assured committee members that his company was "vendor neutral" and "manufacturer neutral," and would shop for the best solution and the best prices. Banks also said they want to work with local companies.

There is no charge for the detailed energy study, Banks said, unless the school board not only turns down the project but also gives Ameresco's data to another company.

The school board went all the way through a similar process with Siemens, and was at the point of making a commitment so that big-ticket items like boilers could be ordered and work started once school let out for the summer, but approval was never granted.