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Special Energy Project Funding

Special Energy Project Funding lights up district budgets
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2017
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer 
Embedded Image for:  (2017124161340518_image.jpg) For most of the 59 school districts participating in the Special Energy Projects Funding through KSBA, it’s been an enlightening experience.

Pardon the pun, but that would be because 90 percent of those projects involved replacing older lighting in school buildings with modern, energy-efficient LED lights.

“The payback on these is averaging about four years,” said Jon Nipple, who manages the special funding program for KSBA’s School Energy Managers Project. “The districts are out a little bit of money, but within three–four years and for the next 20 years they’re going to be taking advantage of these lights.”

Hickman County was the first district to complete its project, which involved LED lighting improvements to its high school gym, replacing a 20-year-old lighting system. The district matched the project’s $8,000 allocation for the work, a good investment in energy efficiency considering how heavily the gym is used, said Superintendent Casey Henderson.

“It’s beautiful, it’s brighter, it is more energy-efficient,” he said. “It really brightens things up. It illuminated things better than what we’ve seen in a long, long time. We doubled our candlewatt power on the floor by doing this project.”

Hickman County school board member Martie Templeton said he’s heard a lot of positive comments from students and parents who attend games. “It’s a thousand times better than what we had. Plus with the additional savings we’ll be able to capture over the next several years, too, as an added bonus. So it’s a win-win for our district,” said Templeton, who also serves on KSBA’s board.

Nipple noted, “Usually in those (gym) projects, you cut about half the energy out, just by making that change. So half the cost of your operation disappears for those lights.”

The Special Energy Projects Funding is benefiting a total of 316 schools in 59 districts served by Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities. The utilities provided a total of $1 million for the project as part of a rate increase settlement last year in which KSBA intervened before the state Public Service Commission on behalf of affected school districts. As part of the settlement, the companies also reduced the amount of the rate increase they had requested, another plus for schools.

The funding for projects as part of the settlement was a first; funding was provided as part of settlements in previous cases, but it was earmarked to supplement the salary of school district energy managers.

This latest round is administered by KSBA-SEMP based on applications submitted by eligible school districts. About 20 systems chose not to participate. Districts had the option of accepting a base amount of money or a matched sum, in which they agreed to spend more than the base and in turn have that sum matched by the pot of Special Energy Projects Funding. In addition to that, districts could opt to request a share of any residual money left over. Most districts that received funding chose one of the latter two options (see chart below).
Embedded Image for:  (2017124161533501_image.jpg) Results
The outcome? With district matching money, the dollars spent on projects generated from the program doubled the total million-dollar settlement funding, giving districts a bang for their buck.

“From an energy-saving standpoint, we had 5 million kilowatt hours of energy (saved), roughly a half-million dollars a year savings back to the districts,” Nipple said.

“The payback on it is just tremendous,” said SEMP Director Ron Willhite. “It’s allowed the schools to accelerate eliminating wasteful energy use and at the same time provided a better environment.”

Nipple also pointed to the benefit for utility companies: These projects together will reduce demand, which can help stave off the need to build additional costly power plants.

The only slight hiccup in the program came with paperwork, he said, as districts have to get used to providing a high level of detail in their project description and invoices to receive reimbursement. “We have to have a trail,” he explained. “We need to be able to show (the utilities) what we did.”

The utilities “have been really good to work with,” he added.

Participating districts have until June 30, 2018 to complete their projects. “Most of them will do them over the summer, but a lot of them took advantage of the Christmas break to do it,” while students were out of the buildings, Nipple said.

Willhite said similar results could potentially be produced in the latest rate case in which KSBA has intervened (see sidebar page 17). Hickman County’s Henderson is on board with that: “We’ve got another gym in the elementary we’d love to have the opportunity to be able to do the same thing with.”
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