School Board Faces Powerful Decision Thursday

A final decision on whether to enter into an agreement with a company that is offering a plan to help county schools save money on its utility bills could come when the Cannon County Board of Education meets Thursday night.

The decision to accept the offer from Schneider Electric might have been made easier had the Cannon County Commission agreed to fund the preliminary inspection, which will determine how much the system will save on power bills.

However, county commissioners referred the matter back to the school board last month without agreeing, or declining, to fund the audit.

Schneider Electric Account Executive Kaitlynn Pastor said she was not surprised at the stance taken by the county commissioners, and plans to push forward this week with the school board.

"I understand the service we provide can be complex and difficult to understand so I don't blame the commissioners for being confused," Pastor said. "I have often times heard that our proposal sounds 'too good to be true.' I think this stems from the fact that the financial method we use to leverage the energy savings from the utility bill to pay for the equipment isn't common and many people shy away from what they don't understand.

"The truth behind it is that these projects do perform and we try to be as up front and transparent as possible. It's unfortunate that the information I had to provide the commission was only estimates, which is why we typically wait until after the Investment Grade Audit to speak to the commission. In the end, it should have been an informative meeting for the commission rather than taken up for a vote."

Pastor will take up with matter with the school board again this week when its meets for first a workshop Wednesday evening at the Central Office, and again Thursday for its regular monthly meeting at the high school.

"I'll be meeting with the school board at their next workshop to debrief them on the commission meeting and gauge their reactions," Pastor said. "I believe the project could still have a chance if the school board members would be willing to speak with their commissioners about the project. I believe they will be voting to either sign or not sign the Investment Grade Audit contract at the next board meeting and their vote will determine whether I continue to pursue this opportunity. I would love to see Cannon Co. get improvements in their schools, especially when there is so much incentive opportunity and energy savings available, but in the end it is their choice.

"If they move forward at this point they incur no cost. They only incur cost if we would complete the audit and then the school would decide not to implement the construction project. Right now the estimated project cost is between $900k-$1.5 million.

Schneider Electric is guaranteeing the school system a 100 percent return on its investment. However, one of the concerns expressed so far, both by board members and county commissioners, is that the proposal does not include replacement windows.

"As far as the guarantee goes, the number we have come up with so far is our Preliminary Potential Annual Savings amount which equals $83,045," Pastor said. "We believe we should find even more savings after our Investment Grade Audit. The guaranteed savings amount is a 100% Guaranteed Return on Investment or we write a check to the school for the difference.

"Right now, because we haven't developed the full scope of the project, the recommended energy conservation measures include a new chiller (for the high school), occupancy sensors, and an Energy Management System which will give the occupants of the buildings greater control of their heating and air and significantly reduce excess energy use. More scope items could be added in the Investment Grade Audit.

"Windows might be possible. If we find significantly more savings during the Investment Grade Audit we might be able to add some windows to the scope of the project. We are limited in scope by the amount of savings we can find to fund it because the school has indicated they have no outside capital available for these types of improvements and we are looking for a Self Funding Project."

Pastor is still hoping to convince the board the proposed project will be of benefit to the county over the long term.

"The biggest point I'd like to make is that our job is to help county schools reduce their energy spending, reduce the impact of energy rate increases, and get improvements they desperately need and wouldn't be able to fund otherwise," she said. "If the school doesn't move forward with this project their utility costs are still going to exist, and probably continue to increase, they lose out on not only the opportunity to get their chiller replaced now, they miss out on $150,000 of federal incentive dollars, which could pay for a chiller, and all the rebates offered by TVA."