Committee recommends ‘no-brainer’

Published 9:24 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The City/School Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns has decided to recommend that the two entities explore energy performance contracting, which could save money that would then be used for other needs.

The four-person committee, as well as a contingent of staff members from both the city and Suffolk Public Schools, heard a presentation from Charlie Barksdale of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

“I know budgets are getting very tight,” Barksdale said. “This program is intended to help resolve that.”

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The energy performance contracting program allows government entities to contract with energy companies to perform upgrades to existing energy equipment, from freezers in the school cafeterias to streetlights along city-maintained roads.

The company guarantees that the energy savings will meet or exceed the debt payments on the new equipment. If it doesn’t, the company writes a check for the difference.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Councilman Tim Johnson, one of the four members of the committee along with Councilman Mike Duman and School Board members Linda Bouchard and Judith Brooks-Buck, who is the committee chair.

About 70 public bodies, including jails and water authorities, have been through the process, Barksdale said. Locally, the school systems in Isle of Wight County and Newport News are currently going through it.

“There’s a lot of people doing it,” Barksdale said.

The two entities, working together, would select at least four contractors from a state-approved list to do what’s known as a “back of the envelope” audit, Barksdale said.

The contractors would visit representative sites and examine utility bills, maintenance logs and other records for the sites to come up with an estimate of savings.

“The (back of the envelope) process doesn’t cost you anything,” Barksdale said. “There’s no money out of pocket that you pay somebody.”

The entities could then choose one or more contractors to provide an investment-grade audit and then finally select a partner to perform the work.

“There’s no change orders,” Barksdale said. “If they miss something, they pay for it.”

“It seems like a good idea to me,” Brooks-Buck said following the presentation.

Following its process, the committee is expected to write a letter to the city manager and the school superintendent recommending the program.