Energy efficiency for schools still sought

Friday, January 7, 2011

Representatives of both companies that want the contract to help the Marshall County school system be more energy efficient answered questions at a joint meeting of the county commission's education and budget committees Tuesday.

Education committee chairman Rocky Bowden called it a "fact-finding situation," but at the end of the meeting, education committee members voted unanimously in favor of pursuing a contract with one of the two companies and the budget committee followed suit.

The next day, Commission Chairman Tom Sumners called "getting this program underway" the most important outcome of the meeting. "We're trying to save some money," he said. "If they can get their ducks in a row we'd all be in agreement," Sumners added.

At the beginning, Bowden turned the meeting over to schools Director Roy Dukes. Dukes told the group that there was $115,509 available from the state for Marshall County to spend on energy-efficient upgrades of kitchen equipment, lighting, and HVAC.

"The money's there," Dukes said. "All we have to do is take advantage of it." There could also be money coming from the Tennessee Valley Authority for reducing electricity consumption.

New, more efficient lights can be purchased at a "substantial discount" from General Electric, and installed by the schools' maintenance department.

The only catch is that each school has to submit a separate application, and they have to be in by Feb. 1. The county commission is not involved. Dukes said he was bringing it to their attention as a courtesy.

The commission is very much involved, however, in the larger projects proposed by Siemens and Ameresco. That's because the school board is barred from borrowing money. Therefore, the county has to take out the loans, and is, ultimately, liable for repaying them.

"There is no risk to the county," said Kirk Whittington, the Siemens representative. "All you need to do is keep funding the utility bills at the same rate, and the savings will pay the debt service. That part's guaranteed."

Ameresco, represented here by Frank Banks, makes the same guarantee.

"Nothing has to happen by Feb. 1 except the school board has to vote and the application has to be in," Whittington told the group. "In 17 years I've never seen money so cheap," he added, referring to the loans now available at 0.75 percent.

Siemens has been working with the school system for over two years, and has already presented a proposal for energy-efficient upgrades totaling just over $3 million. Ameresco made its first presentation in the summer, and is still working to complete a proposal.