Districts moving ahead with Prop. 39 energy projects

Districts moving ahead with Prop. 39 energy projects

(Calif.) Armed with the guidelines for a new energy efficiency program, school districts across the state are beginning to access millions of dollars that will allow them to retrofit or build facilities that not only save money in the long run but also create higher quality learning environments for students.

The California Energy Commission earlier this month released its Proposition 39 energy plan handbook designed to guide local educational agencies through the application process. The CEC is also hosting a training webinar tomorrow morning for LEAs participating in the program.

Still, the many rules and regulations can be overwhelming for districts, many of which don’t have qualified personnel for the job – so they are taking advantage of the planning funds allowed under the program to hire professionals to walk them through it.

“It’s confusing a bit in the interpretation of the requirements,” said Christine Marez, director at Cumming, an international consulting firm that has handled more than 2,000 school projects, including work with Los Angeles Unified School District, U.C. Berkeley and others. Both the Glendale and Santa Ana unified school districts have hired the company to handle their Proposition 39 energy projects, and Cumming has eight other proposals currently being considered by California school districts.

“It [the Energy Expenditure Plan] does get very detailed,” Marez said. “You have to include everything from what the Energy Usage Index was at the school, the installed cost, the projected energy savings from all the devices, the rate of return and the number of years you’re going to take to pay yourself back, things like that.”

Proposition 39, passed by voters last November, closed a corporate tax loophole to generate billions in revenue over a five year period. Half the money collected goes to the California Clean Energy Jobs Act – the program created to fund K-12 school and community college energy efficiency projects.

District funding is based on average daily attendance numbers. Small schools and districts are awarded set grant amounts. Project planning funds are calculated as a percentage of a district’s total award.

Under the program, districts must show a return of $1.05 for every $1 of Prop. 39 money invested in energy efficient projects, said Marez. This requires a series of steps to determine current energy usage and costs that will be compared to usage and costs after installation of new systems.

In Glendale’s case, Cumming analyzed energy consumption at all district schools to determine the top three users, and that’s where the district’s first year Prop. 39 allocation of $1.2 million will go.

Some of the more ‘simple’ projects districts can complete include installation of double paned windows and/or window coverings, centralized systems that control power to electronics such as printers, copiers and computers, and lighting upgrades which, according to Marez, allows for a maximum rate of return on investment.

Larger – and more expensive – projects that require auditing under the program include installing solar or replacing older, inefficient heating and air systems.

Under the Prop. 39 program, districts can also contract for up to $100,000 a year in energy management services that help train staff and monitor project performance.

Another little known bonus is that districts can contract with the California Conservation Corps for free auditing services – typically 15 to 20 cents a square foot, according to Marez. CCC members have been specially trained to perform these audits with funds also provided by Prop. 39.

And, said Marez, if districts are paying more than 15 percent of their Prop. 39 funds for consulting fees, they’re paying too much.

“To me this is one of the best programs that has come out in a long time, and it really has caused a ripple effect in people’s awareness of, not only the money that’s available but also the benefits of energy efficiency,” she said.

“Prop. 39 is all about creating jobs in California. We can’t lose sight of that. We’re creating jobs in the energy sector for the next generation. It’s going to trickle down, and it’s going to spur this entire movement in energy – not only in California but everywhere.”

Information about the application process and the requirements are available at the CEC website at http://www.energy.ca.gov/efficiency/proposition39 or at the California Department of Education website at http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/ca/prop39cceja.asp

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