Cost-saving program supported

Published 9:11 pm Thursday, May 14, 2015

The School Board voted to join with the city on a state program to fund energy-reducing capital improvements in schools and municipal facilities.

While David Mitnick abstained, other board members voted to pursue energy performance contracting, after hearing from Charlie Barksdale, utilities and performance contracting manager at the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, on how it works and what it can achieve.

In short, companies contract with public entities to do energy-saving upgrades, and energy savings cover the cost of finance, with the company guaranteeing to make up the difference if there is any.


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Barksdale said almost every state agency has participated. The program, he said, has the added bonus of allowing money that had been budgeted for capital improvements to be diverted elsewhere.

He read off numerous school districts and a handful of other local government entities — such as Rappahannock Regional Jail and the City of Bristol — that are currently in the process. He said it has become more popular since the credit crunch, helping public entities do more with less.

“It’s been around a while (and) it’s been proven,” Barksdale said. “It frees up existing money to fund unfunded needs.”

The work session Thursday was the result of School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck’s insistence to other members of the City School Advisory Committee on Collaborative Fiscal Concerns.

Brooks-Buck, who chairs the joint city/school task force, said the School Board needed to hear about the program and give its consent before the process with the city was started.

That antagonized some other task force members, including Councilman Mike Duman, who said it would waste precious time.

Duman, who attended the School Board work session in the Nansemond River High School auditorium, along with City Council colleagues Leroy Bennett and Lue Ward, explained Thursday the program was saving Western Tidewater Regional Jail a lot of money.

“The crux of the matter is, the energy savings will pay for whatever you choose to put into the project,” said Duman, who’s on the jail board.

At the jail, he said, it’s been used on upgrades to reduce water consumption, which had previously been weighing heavily on the budget.

The process Barksdale explained starts with selecting a minimum of four approved energy service companies to perform a “back-of-the-envelope” — or preliminary — audit of selected facilities.

Eventually, one of the companies is selected as the “energy partner,” and an investment-grade energy audit is conducted.

From that audit, the public entity selects what projects to move forward with, and a contract is drafted and signed.

Barksdale said he provides support all the way.

The main project the School Board is eyeing is replacing aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment in several schools. But some trepidation exists.

Chairman Michael Debranski wondered how the city and school district would work together to determine which projects to proceed with after the audit.

“This is a new concept — you are going to hand-hold us through this?” Debranski asked Barksdale, who replied, “I will be here.”