Liberty schools may benefit from clean energy project


By Samantha Phillips

sphillips@vindy.com

LIBERTY

Liberty schools officials are exploring the idea of working with Guaranteed Clean Energy to save money by improving energy efficiency in the school buildings and athletic field.

Columbus-based GCE conducts an energy audit with its team of engineers to determine how organizations including schools can invest in energy upgrades that cut costs and generate revenue. It provides engineering and financial services that guide organizations to becoming more energy efficient.

“We show them the results and where the savings can be. They can pay for all these things without spending money from their budget – this process is budget neutral for the schools, and we are creating positive cash flow from day one,” said Robert Thomas, GCE executive vice president.

Thomas said the service is budget neutral for schools, because the money schools invest into infrastructure will be replaced by the money they save.

“School operating budgets in this day and age are extremely limited. ... We are offering the ability to utilize their dollars in a much wiser capacity” such as new technology and programs, Thomas said.

Joseph Nohra, Liberty superintendent, said he believes the board will decide to move forward with the project, especially because it will lower utility costs. The question would be how to reinvest the money that is saved.

A simple but effective solution GCE found would be replacing the light bulbs with LED light bulbs. The GCE engineers counted 10,000 light bulbs at the school district’s buildings, and designed a layout where the buildings would need 1,000 fewer light bulbs to cover the same space.

Other ideas are to install solar window films and install HVAC controls and automation systems.

One of the options that the board will have to ponder is whether to invest in an artificial, smart surface field.

A normal athletic field costs $35,000 to $40,000 to maintain, Thomas said, so using the artificial field would save money, plus it would be more resistant to bad weather. But it would require a bigger initial investment.

“The smart surface eliminates the use of water, pesticides, saves manpower. Just one lawn mower emits the same amount of pollution as 11 cars do in one hour,” Thomas said.

Nohra said he wants the board to review the five-year forecast first before making any decisions on that.

GCE projects that over 15 years, Liberty schools could save about $3.1 million and have an additional cash flow of $1 million even if it doesn’t install the field. If the district does install the field, GCE projects it could save $3.6 million and have an additional cash flow of almost $500,000. Even with the cost of the infrastructure additions the school district could still save $2 million over 15 years, GCE projects.

“In all the communities we have provided this in, it’s been a home run,” Thomas said.

GCE is discussing the idea with other local schools.

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