By B.C. Manion
An energy conservation company is proposing a five-year contract with Pasco County Schools that could reap millions in savings for the cash-strapped district.
Cenergistic has presented an 83-page proposal to the Pasco School Board, and Gary Clark, regional president for the company, appeared at a board workshop April 16 to cover the high points.
The company has been in business for 27 years and has saved its clients $3 billion. Its client list includes 20,000 school buildings, Clark said.
The potential for reducing costs is not as great in Pasco as it is in some places because the district already has instituted practices aimed at efficiencies, Clark said.
But there is room for savings, because the energy bill is a big-ticket item on the board’s budget, Clark said. He noted, “You’re spending about $13 million here.”
He told school board members his company would do for Pasco what it did for Sarasota: “we’d take a really good program and make it great.”
St. John’s County saved 45 percent of its energy costs, Clark said.
“We aren’t going to save Pasco County 45 percent,” he said.
But Cenergistic has estimated it can save the district more than 20 percent in its energy costs.
“We don’t sell any equipment. We change the habits and behaviors of staff,” Clark said.
The company doesn’t believe in making people uncomfortable to achieve its results, he added. Most savings come from making changes for how things operate when buildings are unoccupied.
The company’s plan calls for employing four energy specialists who would be expected to do audits of buildings in the early mornings, late at night, on weekends and holidays.
During the initial five years of the plan, the company pays the salaries of those specialists, who would be selected from current district staff.
The most important skill these specialists need is the ability to communicate, Clark said.
“We can take someone who is good with people and train them,” he said.
Teachers are generally a very good fit for the position: “Probably 80 percent of the specialists come out of the classroom.”
During the first five years, the district has the choice of keeping those employees on its payroll and being reimbursed for their costs, or having Cenergistic hire them.
After the fifth year, the district would pay the salaries if they choose to continue in the program, Clark said.
The district also must agree to purchase software called EnergyCAP Energy Management Software, which tracks energy use, meter by meter, building by building and campus by campus, Clark said.
Signing a contract with Cenergistic is, at worst, budget neutral, Clark said, because the company is paid a percentage of the district’s savings.
If the cost for operating the energy-savings program exceeds the district’s savings, the company will write the district a check to cover the difference, Clark said.
“We’ve only written eight checks in 27 years,” Clark said.
He also noted that it takes about six months to get the program up and running, so the company doesn’t charge anything for its services during that time.
At the end of the first 18 months, Clark said the company expects to save the district more than $2 million. During 10 years, the savings would be about $28.9 million.
Indirect benefits included increasing the comfort when buildings are occupied and extending the life of equipment by ensuring it is properly used, Clark said.
When the district starts paying for the program, it would cost about $278,000 a year, but at that point the estimated savings would be more than $3 million, Clark said.
Cenergistic was founded in 1986 as Energy Education Company and was rebranded in 2012 as Cenergistic. It has more than 1,250 clients across the nation, serving school districts, higher education campuses, health care facilities and large churches.
The company’s energy saving program has been implemented in more than 20,000 buildings.
School board member Steve Luikart said he’s glad superintendent Kurt Browning brought the company to the board for its consideration. He said he became aware of Cenergistic about a year-and-a-half ago, but former superintendent Heather Fiorentino was not interested in pursuing a possible contract.
Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong and board members Joanne Hurley and Alison Crumbley said they are interested in the potential savings, but want to be sure due diligence is done before signing a contract with any energy savings company.
At the board’s April 16 workshop, board member Allen Altman raised questions about getting tied into a contract. He noted he’s heard grumblings from members of other school board members at conferences about trying to figure out how to get out of a bad contract they were stuck in.
Clark assured Altman that boards tend to not want to cancel contracts with Cenergistic because it actually is saving money for their districts.
Altman said he just wants to make sure the district doesn’t get locked into a contract that it later regrets.