BOE struggles over proposed energy savings program

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The recent proposal to contract with Energy Systems Group (ESG) was met last week with a bit of concern by some on the Claiborne County School Board who felt the $39,000 assessment price tag a bit more than the county could handle.

If the board was to decide not to proceed with the program, the county would be liable for the cost of doing an energy savings assessment — the next step after signing the contract.

However, the cost would be absorbed into the low interest loan, needed to cover the energy upgrades, if the county were to move forward with the program.

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Board member Linda Fultz said she did not want to “throw a wrench” into the discussion, but did want to make everyone aware of possible alternatives to the proposed ESG contract. Fultz said she had received, just that day, an information packet from the Tennessee Department of Energy and Conservation (TDEC).

She said another school system, who had partnered with Snyder Electric, had received a $500,000 energy studies milestone through facilities improvements.

“They saved that much money on just five schools and the Board of Education building. I’m just throwing this out there as food for thought.

“There might be some TDEC grants out there. Maybe, we should check with some other people, too,” said Fultz.

She said that fellow board member Shane Bunch had agreed to check further into alternatives.

When asked, Bunch said he was unsure just how “detailed” an energy audit could be gained through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and other sources compared to the type of audit ESG is prepared to do with the $39,000 assessment funds.

Dr. Joseph Miller, director of schools, said he and others had visited nearby Anderson County school district, who had partnered with ESG, to look into their energy program.

“They are about one-third larger than us, with 17 schools and about 6,000 students. The annual payout was around $500,000 and the savings rounded up to about $750,000. I think they took some of this money and revamped it over into developing a better maintenance department in their school system,” said Miller.

Board chairman Micheal Jo Gray said he felt this proposal an opportunity to go into all the school campuses with upgrades that would most likely never be realized, if the county depended solely on the budget.

“This is improving the learning environment and the classrooms, while saving lots of money,” said Gray.

Bunch said what he liked most about the ESG contract was the fact that an independent agency would be signing off on whether the program is, indeed, ‘budget neutral.’

It has been estimated the county would realize a $150,000 to $175,000 in savings, per year. Those funds would go toward paying back a low-interest loan from the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative, established by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008 to improve energy efficiency in the state’s public K-12 schools.

After a bit more discussion, the board unanimously adopted the resolution to contract with ESG, with the caveat that dimmer switches be installed in all classrooms across the district, if the program moves forward once the assessment is completed.

Bunch made the motion, with a second by vice-chair Shannon England, after an extended pause.

The resolution will come up for final vote on Nov. 20, during the next meeting of the Claiborne Commission.