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.