Sept. 25--King George County will be able to install almost $4 million worth of new electrical, heating and cooling systems in school buildings, but won't pay any upfront costs for the new features.
Instead, the money will come from savings in utility bills and operations over the next 15 years, according to the Energy Savings Performance Contracting plan between King George County Schools and Honeywell. What's more, if at any time the savings don't equal the expenses, Honeywell will cover the difference.
"We think it's a solid program," School Superintendent Rob Benson told the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 6.
Two weeks later, the supervisors agreed--after their financial consultant reviewed the proposal and said the project would not harm the county's credit rating or financial standing. Kyle Laux, senior vice president with financial adviser Davenport & Co., based in Richmond, also told the supervisors that this kind of energy performance contract is becoming more popular throughout the state.
The General Assembly passed a statute in 2001 that backs the energy company's financial guarantees. Since that time, localities across the state have entered into energy contracts worth $697 million, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which supports the programs.
In August, King George School Board Vice Chairman T.C. Collins suggested the schools look into ways to lower energy usage, which would in turn save money and be better for the environment. He put together a 53-page report offering various options, and Benson said he'd look into the possibility of an energy audit.
That led to school officials to Honeywell and Wayne Verlander, general manager of its Building Solutions program. Verlander made a presentation to the King George supervisors Sept. 6 that outlined the $3.8 million plan.
Items needed include a new chiller--a key component of air conditioning systems for large buildings--at King George Elementary School; HVAC system at the preschool and School Board office; and building control systems at King George Elementary and Middle School and Sealston Elementary School. The current systems, especially at the preschool building, are obsolete, school officials said.
"There's zero impact to your operating budget," Verlander said, "and you're avoiding capital improvements that the School Board would be coming to you, asking for."
But Supervisor Chairwoman Ruby Brabo was concerned about what impact the project would have on the county's debt. She said the board's goal this year has been to use existing funds for capital improvements instead of borrowing money.
King George currently has $59.3 million worth of debt from building government facilities and schools--and residents regularly expressed concern about the sizable amount during last year's election season.
"A couple of us campaigned quite hard to try to keep our debt down," Brabo said.
At one point during the recent discussion, she even wondered if the county could pay cash for half the electrical and heating systems and finance the rest. Fellow Supervisor Jim Howard said he didn't like that idea.
"I'm not a big fan of spending cash," Howard said. "Cash is king."
"Some of us aren't big fans of more debt," Brabo said.
When he reminded her the project is "revenue neutral," meaning the energy savings will equal expenditures over the course of 15 years, she agreed that cash wasn't called for in this case.
School officials stressed they wanted to replace the elementary school chiller during the December break, when students are out of the building, and Brabo wondered if paying in cash would expedite the project.
Laux said these kinds of energy contracts can be financed quickly, and timing wouldn't be a problem.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
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