Schools look to cut energy costs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Rowan-Salisbury school officials are hoping to ramp up energy savings by teaming up with Energy Systems Group, a company that specializes in sustainable energy solutions.
Through a partnership with EduCon, a Winston-Salem based energy conservation consulting firm, the district has saved $5 million in the past seven years.
But a team from Energy Systems Group says that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If the school system signed on to work with the company, much of the outdated equipment would be replaced, creating additional savings.
“The first step is to make significant facility improvements to extend the useful life of the schools,” said Steve Zip, an account executive with Energy Systems Group. “That’s a way to proactively avoid unplanned budget costs due to mechanical equipment failure.”
Zip said the company has performed a preliminary energy audit at 13 of the district’s 35 schools.
“Energy costs have spiked and there is a need for high performance schools in this global economy,” he said. “We spent some time on our own dime to give you a good faith estimate of what the project will look like.”
The audit yielded a number of water and mechanical upgrades as well as lighting retrofits.
“One of the nice things about this type of project is you get to standardize equipment so in the long run it helps the school district and you get rid of equipment that is hard to find parts for that are very expensive,” Zip said.
A closer look
Ferdinand Hudencial, an engineering manager for Energy Systems Group, said there are a number of opportunities when it comes to lighting retrofits, including the replacement of existing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and using LED lights in exit signs.
“We would be taking out the old T12 magnetic (fluorescent light fixtures) and replacing them with the T8,” he said. “They have stopped manufacturing these, so they are getting harder and harder to find.”
The lighting retrofits would be done in at least five elementary schools, three middle schools and all high schools except Carson.
Hudencial said the irrigation systems at every high school would be updated.
“For the most part these are manually operated,” he said. “We will install a control system, which will save a tremendous amount of water that will, of course, equate to dollar savings.
Condensing hot water boilers will replace steam boilers at Morgan and Landis elementary schools.
“Steam boilers are very inefficient and there are also some safety concerns with the students, especially students in kindergarten through fifth grades because the pipes get hot and if students touch them they could get burned,” Hudencial said.
An electric strip at China Grove Middle would need to be swapped for high-efficiency heat pumps.
The air-cooled chiller at North Rowan High School would be switched out for a Turbucor compressor-based air-cooled chiller.
“That chiller keeps breaking down because of compressor issues,” Hudencial said. “The Turbucor chiller is very efficient and, noise-wise, very quiet, which is good because it’s located in the courtyard adjacent to classrooms.”
Guaranteed results
Grey Medinger, an Energy Systems Group account executive, said the firm has a 97 percent success rate in bringing down energy costs.
But when that doesn’t happen, the company makes it right, going back in to figure out the issue and taking responsibility for any unexpected costs.
“If we don’t meet the savings then we pay the bill,” he said. “Our projects are all guaranteed, the savings are all guaranteed.”
The firm estimates the district could save about $420,000 during the first year of its 15-year contract, with savings growing up to more than $595,000 annually.
The carbon footprint produced by the district would decrease by 1,997 tons of greenhouse gas, the equivalent of 355 passenger cars per year.
Medinger said the project would be paid for “strictly from the savings that are generated.”
The company estimates a total of about $7.6 million in savings, with a project cost of nearly $7.3 million.
“At the end of the contract terms all of the excess savings revert back to the schools system,” Zip said.
A native of Spencer, Medinger said he wanted to get his company involved in reaching out to the school system.
“I know from living in the county what a bad situation our budgets are in,” he said. “This is an opportunity to get some things done that are needed in the schools. It requires no increase to the budget. I think that’s the main thing.”
Energy Systems Group has also worked with Bladen County Schools, but an official there said it’s too soon to tell how much the district will save.
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations, said he supports the partnership.
“This is a way to get buildings brought up to more efficient standards,” he said. “It’s also getting something done without creating an expenditure for us or the county commissioners.”
What’s next
The Energy Systems Group team has been asked to present during the school board meeting April 23.
If the board opts to move forward, the next decision will lie with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
Miller said the school system will need a resolution supporting the project to get the ball rolling.
“Once we get that resolution, we have to go to the Local Government Commission to get their approval,” he said.
Zip said he doesn’t foresee any issues with getting approval from the Local Government Commission because he’s structured the project around their standards.
Miller said the county board has not been receptive to such a proposal in the past, but he’s hoping to gain their support this time around.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

Possible capital upgrades through proposed partnership  with Energy Systems Group
• Replace outdated T12 fluorescent fixtures with magnetic ballasts with T8 fixtures and electronic ballasts at Bostian, Overton, Faith, Landis and Morgan elementary schools; Knox, China Grove, and Corriher-Lipe middle schools; and all of the district’s high school’s except Carson 
• Replace stem coils with hot water coils at Landis Elementary.
• Use heat pumps to replace existing 4DX units at Morgan Elementary. 
• Install aerator to the water faucets, replace existing high flow tank top water closets, retrofit high flow flush valves and replace existing high flow urinal flush valve to low flow ones at Overton, Faith and Landis elementary schools; China Grove and Corriher-Lipe middle schools’ and all of the district’s high school’s except Carson and East Rowan. 
• Glass wall replacement and drop ceiling installation for buildings 600, 700 and 800 at Knox Middle.
• Replace leaking three-way valve on the ventilator with local programmable thermostat control at Henderson Independent High. 
• Retrofit three existing fuel oil fired hot water boilers to natural gas fired types, assuming Piedmont Natural Gas will supply a line at West Rowan High School