By Kim West
During the past six months, Limestone school officials have explored the benefits of adopting an energy savings program to offset maintenance costs for the school system.
The Board of Education has accepted a recommendation by Steve Wallace, director of facilities and maintenance for Limestone County schools, to approve Schneider Electric’s proposal for a qualified energy performance bond.
The bond, which will be guaranteed by Schneider, will serve as the funding source to improve the energy performance of the system’s 13 campuses and administrative facilities.
Superintendent Dr. Tom Sisk previously said Schneider’s business model does not require a school system to borrow money to fund energy improvements. Instead, the company provides a 20-year cost-savings guarantee and is paid through those savings.
The energy program has been discussed during multiple board work sessions, with two vendors — Schneider and Siemens Industry — making pitches to the school board.
Through the vetting process, the two companies have provided long-term utility data and produced sample cost-savings reports at no cost to the school system.
The Limestone system averages roughly $1 million in utility expenses per month, said Reggie Arnold, an engineer with Siemens, during the board’s Sept. 17 work session.
Officials with both companies said energy savings could be found through water conservation, lower-wattage light bulbs and upgrades to windows, ventilation and plumbing fixtures.
Based on the total budgeted cost for electricity, water and gas of $2.17 million, the school system has estimated a possible savings of $217,970 by implementing energy savings measures.
When Schneider made its initial presentation to the board in March, company officials said it would be possible to begin construction work while schools were closed during the Christmas break if the board made its decision by summer.
The company already has completed a preliminary analysis of 10 of Limestone’s 13 schools, but the project timeline has been adjusted due to the decision being made by the board on Nov. 5.
Allie Harris, an account executive for energy solutions at Schneider, said after Tuesday’s school board meeting that a full-fledged energy audit would be conducted at each school facility in the coming weeks.
Harris said design plans could be finalized by spring to allow work to start in summer 2014.
“A utility bill is usually the second-biggest cost for a school system. We can provide savings of 10 to 40 percent by installing energy-efficient upgrades,” said Harris during her initial presentation to the board. “Our projects have to be funded out of the savings we provide, and we’re (motivated) to find those savings.”
Schneider, a French company with U.S. headquarters in Illinois and an office in Birmingham, has worked with 28 of the state’s 134 school systems to funnel money back into the systems’ maintenance funds.
Records show that Schneider has generated annual savings of $619,800 for Madison County Schools and $208,503 for Florence City Schools in Lauderdale County.