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Petaluma schools hire Texas firm to help it cut energy costs

By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Petaluma City Schools has signed on with a Dallas-based company to steer the district toward energy efficiency.

The four-year deal with Energy Education will cost the district $172,800 a year. But district officials expect their water, gas and electricity savings to reach $120,000 this year and $150,000 in each of the three remaining years of the contract, after all fees are paid.

The contract guarantees that if savings fall short of Energy Education’s fees, the company will refund the difference, said Steve Bolman, the school district’s deputy superintendent.

“If you look at the cost, it is a lot of money, and they are talking about things you think you can do yourself. But without their program and expertise you just don’t get the sustained savings and you don’t even get the total amount on the initial savings either,” he said.

The deal with Education Energy requires the district to provide a full-time employee to manage and audit cost-saving moves that include adjusting heating and cooling regularly, and monitoring and regulating light, water and gas use.

It also calls for the purchase of a $16,000 monitoring system provided by a third party not linked to Education Energy.

Jamie King, the district’s former facilities manager, was named the plan’s energy education specialist with annual pay of $55,600. King’s facilities manager position was cut in budget reductions, Bolman said. The salary is included in the program costs.

“I was assured the cost savings is significant,” said Christina Kauk, the school board president. “They are basically guaranteeing a certain level of results.”

The board passed the deal 5-0 on July 20.

The district considered a similar offer four years ago but didn’t commit because of the expense, Bolman said. Efforts to exact deeper savings in-house didn’t produced needed results, he said.

The move comes amid cuts to the budget of the county’s second largest district. Summer school has been slashed, teachers laid off and five classroom days as well as three professional development days have been eliminated from the school year that started Aug. 18.

“I love seeing government efficiencies,” said school board member Michael Baddeley. “The economy being what it is, the government funding what is is — found money is found money.”

Energy Education employees will be on Petaluma sites at least once a week and will train King to monitor use patterns, find leaks and inefficiencies, fact-check billing and regulate temperatures, lighting and other adjustable factors, said company spokeswoman Jan Noel-Smith.

“We’re coming in to affect behavior by looking at absolutely everything in the district that uses energy,” she said. “Systems in school are not the same as they are at home. It’s just human nature to say ‘I know how to save energy at home, just pay me.’

“We would not be able to stay in business with 1,100 clients if we had to make very many refunds,” she said.

The guarantee was a big selling point, Bolman said. “They guarantee that you will save more than you pay them,” Bolman said.

The contract comes in tandem with the district’s move to install $5.3 million in solar panels at Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools. That project taps $2 million of a $45 million general obligation bond passed in 1992 and $1.6 million in PG&E rebates. The remainder will be financed with savings anticipated from the solar program, Bolman said.

Sonoma County’s largest school district, Santa Rosa, launched an in-house energy saving plan last school year. A 10 percent reduction in energy consumption there could save the district $190,000, according to staff.

Usage from January through June of this year is down 6 percent from the same stretch last year, according to Santa Rosa district officials. If that pace is maintained, the district will save about $114,000 this year.

Staff writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.





7 Responses to “Petaluma schools hire Texas firm to help it cut energy costs”

  1. Jay says:

    I love that they don’t mention they requirement to hire a full time person… and the $16,000 software program.

    So Petaluma just committed approximately $250,000 in order to be guaranteed to save $172,800.

    Wow.

  2. Jerry Wilkinson says:

    Based only on what I have read here I see nothing inherently wrong with this idea at all. Saving energy is much more than turning off lights. On site systems such as HVAC would need to be optimized for instance to generate any real and significant savings. This looks on the face of it at least like free enterprise, finding a need and filling it. If a company can guarantee a cost savings above and beyond the current cost, and that is the statement made by Steve Bolman, where is the cost to taxpayers? It is more like an investment from what I see.
    As for doing this in house by sending flyers and posting signs, I think that is nice but it is not unlike fighting a house fire with a garden hose.
    One other potential benefit I see is the energy conserving practices that students will become accustomed to and hopefully continue using past school, thereby creating future and additional savings.
    Skepticism is a good thing,questioning authority is a cornerstone of healthy communities, but not everything is some sort of boondoogle.
    If this can save more money in the long run and it is guaranteed, what is wrong with that.

  3. Kay Tokerud says:

    Here’s your new green economy at work. Private sector vendors sell their wares to the government at taxpayer’s expense. First comes the expensive analysis that only they are capable of doing, they say. Then they sell their products and install them at our expense. Are they getting a good deal? No.

    First, there are programs available for free, one from Lawrence Livermore Lab is free. Also PG&E will do free energy evaluations. Saving energy isn’t really that complicated. By making it very high tech, they can sell a lot more products and employ more technicians to do monitoring and testing. Most of this is unnecessary.

    This new public-private partnership green economy may be energy efficient but not cost efficient for the taxpayers. Public officials have notoriously spent too much money on its contracts with vendors. It’s not their money so they spend freely. Energy savings projects should be as simple and effective as possible. Otherwise, more is spent developing the plan than will be realized in the end. Because of this, the so-called new green economy could be an overall drag on our economy.

  4. Private Schools says:

    That is why my kids go to Private School.

    @ David you are right it does not add up.

    I don’t want my children to be taught by people who don’t know how to add. Lol

  5. d says:

    David, did you catch this quote “The contract guarantees that if savings fall short of Energy Education’s fees, the company will refund the difference”. Therefore it will be a wash (worst case) and the school/district will walk away with knowledge and hopefully a program to reduce energy consumption well after the contract has expired. Does that not add up?

  6. Andy Brennan says:

    I have sat through these presentations made by professional consultants who promise the world, but end up costing you a pretty penny. They will only tell you what you already know, turn off the lights, shut down your computers, etc.

    A well thought out campaign among the staff and students will be more efffective and cost you very little other than flyers and some enthusiasm. All it takes is a little organization and promotion. We dropped our utilities bill at Santa Rosa High by 10% without a consultant to tell us how.

  7. David says:

    They are going to spend $691,200 to save $570,000? Something doesn’t add up!