Board of Ed Considers Energy Initiatives
The district examines options for conserving energy.
With township buildings already utilizing the power of the sun, the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District is moving forward with examining the use of solar panels and other energy conservation methods on schools throughout the district.
"The facilities committee has been talking about an energy savings improvement plan," Business Administrator Peter Starrs said at the Jan. 10 Board of Education meeting.
Greg Somjen, of Parette Somjen Architects, spoke before the board about the district's energy savings improvement program, which was first put into place with audits done through Somerset County.
"This is a funding mechanism that was put in place in 2009, and is a means by which schools can fund energy-related projects," he said. "And the savings that you attain by putting in new lights which reduce electrical expenses are used to put the new equipment in."
This is a mechanism for maintaining and building these new energy systems, which was put in place by state legislation, Somjen said.
"It was put in place because the legislation recognized that boards continued to be hampered with keeping taxes as low as possible, but needing to keep up with ever-increasing costs of energy and the maintenance of facilities," he said.
The board began the process with a free energy audit through the government energy audit program.
According to Somjen, a prequalified firm visited the school facilities to identify a variety of projects that would yield savings in energy costs.
"They prepared the audit, and ultimately the audit is used to put together requests for proposals from energy services," he said.
This is where the district is now, Somjen said, with about five different companies currently interested in the projects. Honeywell and Johnson Controls are the most well-known of those, he said, and they are investigating their proposals.
"We are embarking on a review of their submissions with a goal of interviewing them and making a recommendation to the board," he said.
Once the board chooses a company to sign with, Somjen said, another audit will be done to identify specific projects to save energy in the individual buildings.
"Then a plan has to be presented in a fashion that will yield savings to cover the costs of implementing the projects," he said. "If the project can't, we will go back to the beginning."
At some point in that process, Somjen said, the board will be presented with an energy plan that will be evaluated by the board to determine if it makes sense to move forward with the plan.
"The board will determine if the plan makes sense," he said. "Inevitably, if you choose not to pursue the project, we can stop the process and not pursue it any further."
There is also, Somjen said, an independent verification process in which a third party comes in to verify the numbers that were distributed as part of the energy plan.
"There are many checks and balances throughout the projects to show that they will yield the savings and benefits the way they are proposed," he said. "If the board accepts everything, you will manage the process of having us design, bid and oversee the construction."
Somjen said his company has done other architectural projects for the district in the past.
"Projects will be bundled differently based on what they are, and then the district will benefit from the new equipment that is installed, with operating and maintenance costs reduced," he said.
The purpose of all the checks and balances Somjen said is to ensure that the savings from the projects pay for the costs to install them all. In that way, he said, the district is not expending any extra funds in the budget for energy costs.
"When we undertake energy savings projects, you get more efficient equipment that draws less power and uses less power, so your utility costs go down," he said. "By reducing the operational and maintenance costs, that is used to pay the construction costs."
Board of Education President Evan Lerner questioned how the district is expected to get the money to begin the project, paying for audits and studies before the savings begin.
"Ultimately, right now, our team is investing time, but we are not really being compensated," Somjen said. "Based on our relationship for many years, we are making an investment in the district."
But for the rest of the work, Somjen said, the money will be gathered through energy bonds.
"Based on the way the legislation is written, it recognizes that you need to find money that you don't have to begin with, so it allows you to bond so long as you do the work in the way [the state has said]," he said. "You need not go to the voters for approval, but you have to prove that savings you will realize will be used to pay that back."
And if estimates about how much is saved are wrong, Somjen said, the district does have a few options.
"You can decide as a board if you want the energy service company to guarantee the savings," he said. "If you want them too, they will charge a little more for the risk, but then they will guarantee that if the projections are off, they will make up the diffrence in the debt."
Somjen said current proposals for energy savings include the use of solar panels and possibly wind energy.
"It is a token toward showing various kinds of energy efficiencies out there," he said.