Schools pursuing energy savings

Douglas County School District is looking to cut energy costs of schools.

"The public needs to know that we aren't just asking for a bond, but are trying to save money and cut costs on our own," said Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna.

Luna gave examples of energy efficiency projects, including the replacement of old, inefficient lights, the installation of double-pane windows, trash compactors and new boilers.

"With trash compactors, we'd pay for trash pickup once a month, versus twice a week," she said. "It would pay for itself in two years."

Luna said the energy service company Ameresco would perform an energy efficiency audit of the district's buildings, then act as a general contractor for recommended projects.

Bonds would be issued to pay for construction, but the district would pay back the financing only with the money saved by the new energy efficiencies.

Luna said Nevada State Law prevents government entities from being deceived by energy service companies.

"It's required by law that a third party consultant double checks the company's estimates, to make sure they're realistic," she said.

She said Ameresco is bound by law to pay any difference between estimated savings and actual savings.

Luna said Ameresco performed a cursory survey of Douglas High School, Carson Valley Middle School and Gardnerville Elementary School. With changes in lighting, computer power management, vending machine controls, new insulation and windows, among other things, Ameresco estimated they could cut energy costs in all three schools by 28 percent.

Luna estimated the district spends $160,000 a month on electricity for all of its schools.

"We got to look at the pay-back periods," she said. "New lights will pay off in five years, but new windows might not pay off for 70 years."

But Luna said over the long term, the projects will not only generate enough money to pay back the loans but enough to reinvest in maintenance.

At a Feb. 12 meeting, Luna and financial consultant Marty Johnson asked the school board to approve an installment-purchase agreement with Ameresco.

"Since we will likely exceed 10 years on the repayment of the financing we will do for the projects, we need to receive the approval of the debt management commission and the department of taxation," said Johnson.

The debt management commission is an independent counsel that oversees any county entity entering into debt, ensuring the entity is capable of repaying the financing, and that the borrowed money is going where it was intended to go.

"In a nutshell, the idea behind it is that you got projects that need to be done, and instead of paying the utility company, you will pay off the financing and use those savings to pay the financing, so that net, you're not out of pocket any additional dollars," said Johnson.

The recommendation passed 5-1, with board member John Louritt voting against.

"I will renew my objection on the grounds that this board many times in the past several years has expressed their displeasure with unfunded mandates, programs mandated on us by other agencies," said Louritt. "And I believe this is a form of taxation without representation, albeit it's authorized by the legislative people over in Carson, but I don't think we are allowing tax payers input, and for that I will vote against it."

Johnson said after receiving approval, the board could begin approving projects.

"I don't know that we would pursue the entire $9 million of financing up front," said Johnson. "That will depend upon whatever Ameresco comes back with in terms of projects, but the debt management commission authorization is good up to three years."


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