GATE CITY — The Scott County School Board decided during a special meeting last week to begin moving forward with a performance-based contract that is intended to help the system save money on its energy costs.
Board members voted unanimously to enter into negotiations with the Bristol, Va., branch of Comfort Services USA, one of three state-approved energy service companies (ESCO) that submitted what are known as “back of the envelope” audits for the energy-saving project.
Scott County Schools Superintendent John Ferguson said last week’s meeting was the first step in the process of installing more energy-efficient lighting and equipment at every county school.
“The board went ahead and decided to go with Comfort Systems,” Ferguson said. “The reason they did that was, at this point in time, we wanted to go ahead and make sure the School Board was willing to take the next step forward, with the condition that the Board of Supervisors will be supportive of it.”
In addition to Comfort Systems, Ameresco and Siemens also submitted “back of the envelope” audits for the proposal, which would include upgrades to building automation controls, mechanical systems, water heating and conservation systems and lighting.
The board’s decision was made from preliminary energy use audits the three ESCOs performed at four Scott County campuses, including Duffield Primary, Rye Cove Intermediate, Gate City Middle School and Gate City High School.
Because the school system would need to initially take out a loan to move forward, final approval of the project is needed by the Board of Supervisors.
If the project does receive that approval, Ferguson said it would be revenue neutral for the school system since it would be done through a performance contract.
“No additional money taken from the line item, and that’s how we want it to be of course,” Ferguson said. “The money will already be appropriated for utility bills or water bills, and the savings from (the renovations and upgrades) will be used to pay the loan off.”
Ferguson added: “The equipment in these buildings is old and getting older, and we’re sinking a lot of money into the repair and upkeep of them.”
The loan would come from a line of credit maintained by the Virginia Treasury. The loan would then be repaid over the life of the contract with the selected ESCO, which is usually 15 years.
Ferguson said the final cost of the project will be known once Comfort Systems completes a more thorough technical audit of every county school building.
The school system will also have the opportunity to go with one of the other ESCOs if the technical audit performed by Comfort Systems does not meet the School Board’s expectations, Ferguson said.
“Comfort Systems was selected, but if we aren’t satisfied or if things don’t work out, we have the option of going with the second company, which would be Ameresco,” Ferguson said.
The performance contract also benefits the school system, Ferguson said, because the contractor will have to deliver on its energy-saving promises to receive payment for its work.
“We wouldn’t make any of our payments back on the loan and the project itself until we start seeing some results,” Ferguson said.
“They guarantee that, over a certain number of years, they will save you X amount of dollars.
“If they don’t meet those requirements, they in turn will pay the system back for the contracted amount.”
Ferguson noted that similar performance contracting projects to increase energy efficiency have been carried out by other school systems in Southwest Virginia, including those in Lee, Wise and Dickenson counties.