By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education voted to table action on a proposed energy savings program while it waited for word from the current company working with the school system on energy savings regarding possible conflicts and input from others in the school system.
"Why rush?" asked 9th District Representative Dan Schlafer, pointing to the possible legal issues with Trane, which has a performance contract for the energy efficient schools program.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews had recommended board approval, pending further discussions with Trane and final approval by the attorneys.
"Cenergistic creates a culture of conservation, training our staff to optimize every energy -using system across the district and to make decisions to increase comfort and reduce energy costs," he wrote ina recommendation.
Cenergistic had projected about $175,000 in energy savings in the first of a five-year contract and ten-year program with the school system. There's a fee of $21,600 each month for five years, with ten-year projected savings of $4.4 million. That's on top of the savings projected by Trane, according to Cenergistic representatives on hand at the Oct. 5 board retreat.
The school system is in its second full year of a Trane energy efficient schools project, which included a number of upgrades to schools, such as more efficient plumbing fixtures and new lighting fixtures, as well as centralized control of HVAC systems. Trane guaranteed energy savings under that program, and those savings were used to finance the upgrades, along with a number of grants.
Trane guaranteed savings of $326,979 a year.
While the Trane program works with energy systems, Cenergistic looks to modify behavior and educate the school community on energy use. Part of the monthly fee goes toward software that tracks energy savings, and also what is responsible for those savings, and part of the fee is used to pay an energy specialist. The specialist is an employee of Cenergistic for five years. If the school system chose to continue the program beyond the five-year term, it would be responsible for the specialist's salary and benefits.
There is no cost for the Cenergistic program, representatives explained at the retreat, because the fees are paid out of energy savings, which are guaranteed.
"You cannot be out of pocket a single dollar," said Truman Atkins, with Centergistic. "Not a single school system has ever lost money with this system."
The legal questions involve a portion of the Trane contract that states the board may not enter into agreements regarding energy management services or serving energy-related equipment without prior written consent. Also, only Trane personnel or other qualified providers are to repair or adjust the equipment, systems or controls.The school system does not currently have that consent.
Patton said the Cenergistic agreement would have required Cenergistic have sole authority for making adjustment to those systems.
"Initially, we had contracts that were adverse to one another," BOE Attorney Earl Patton said. "We've remedied that to a large extent, but I want to make sure that Trane will not interpret us entering into this contract as a breach of their contract."
Atkins said his company worked in school systems where Trane had an energy savings program, but had never had to secure a waiver from Trane before.
"You already have a strong base that's going to reflect what you were doing," Atkins said. "Our savings have to come below that. We cannot take credit for what they've done. The software allows you to document any and all things that take place."
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, questioned why a waiver would be needed, as Cenergistic did not work with equipment. Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, pointed to the energy management software that controls HVAC systems across the county.
Schlafer was also concerned there hadn't been input from the school system's maintenance department, while Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, wanted input from teachers that would be impacted by the program.
"I haven't heard anything from anyone who works in our maintenance department how this impacts them or how they feel," Schlafer said. "I feel we're rushing. It may be the best thing we could possible do, but there are all kids of questions."
Janeway moved to table action on the program. The motion passed with all in favor.
In other business, the board voted unanimously to extend the contract of Virgie Loetz as board recorder for one year.