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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

New approach to energy may save money

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Faced with the constant threat of boilers breaking down, steam pipes rupturing and other physical plant failures in its aging school buildings, Glendive Public Schools is looking into the possibility of entering into an energy savings performance contract as a means of improving the district’s heating and electrical systems without incurring huge up-front costs.

The Glendive Unified School Board voted to grant Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis the authority to pursue potential performance contracts at their Jan. 8 meeting. In short, a performance contract is a partnership with an energy systems optimization company. The company inspects the physical plant operations and comes up with bundled energy projects designed to achieve greater efficiency through modernization and other upgrades without the need for up-front capital. When applied properly, performance contracts are budget-neutral as the costs of modernization and replacing equipment are paid for by the guaranteed energy savings realized from the energy optimization projects.

“When they work right, in effect, they actually act as a bank,” GUSB trustee Paul Hopfauf said of the potential appeal of entering into a performance contract, given that the costs of making physical plant upgrades are paid for through cost savings realized on utility bills.

Schreibeis said he first became aware of performance contract opportunities during a recent conversation with the principal of Troy High School in Troy, Mont. The principal called Schreibeis, he said, after reading a recent article in the Ranger-Review about all the trouble the district has with the old boilers in Lincoln Elementary School and Washington Middle School. 

The Troy principal asked Schreibeis if he would be interested in buying a fairly new boiler they were getting rid of, and in the course of the conversation it came out that Troy was replacing that boiler as part of an upgrade through a performance contract with an energy optimization firm.

Schreibeis said after that, he called the company contracted with the Troy School District (Johnson Controls) to learn more about how performance contracts work. After learning more, he said it’s something GPS has to take a long, hard look at.

“If it’s as good as it sounds, it’s something we have to look into,” Schreibeis said. “It’s proven to be effective in other school districts.”

Besides potentially benefiting the school district by cutting down on or altogether eliminating any up-front costs of upgrading its heating and electrical systems, Schreibeis said a performance contract could also be incredibly beneficial to local residents because it would mean fewer dollars that the school district has to ask for from them.

“It could help the schools and the taxpayers, because then we’re not asking for money to fix things like this,” Schreibeis said. “That’s one of the things we’re trying to do is to look for ways to do what we need to do in our district without putting the entire burden on the taxpayers or our budget.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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