LUMBERTON — Robeson County Commissioner David Edge said Thursday that he believes that energy performance contracting may be the best way to pay for upgrades to the heating and cooling systems at Robeson Community College.
The chairman of RCC’s trustee board, Sammy Cox, however, isn’t so sure a performance contract is the best way to solve RCC’s energy woes.
RCC trustees and Robeson County commissioners heard a presentation from Brady Trane company, based in Morrisville, on a proposal that would fund needed energy efficiency improvements at all RCC buildings on the main campus and off-campus sites.
Under the proposed energy performance contract, the company would identify and make improvements to make RCC more energy-efficient. The savings as a result of those improvements could then be used to pay back the bank loan needed to fund the project.
“I’m in if we are going to get an actual savings,” Edge said. “… This is guaranteed, like a savings bond … It’s really a no-lose battle.”
Cox said that he would rather find a funding mechanism for upgrading the college’s energy needs without having to obtain a loan. He said that he thinks a decision to move forward with Brady Trane should wait until a determination is made concerning the fate of Gov. Pat McCrory’s Connect N.C. bond initiative. If the bond referendum appears on the November ballot and is approved by voters, about $200 million would be provided to the state’s 58 community colleges to support facility upgrades.
At Cox’s recommendation, the trustees made no decision Thursday on whether to move forward with the project.
Although exact figures will not be available until a detailed investment grade audit of all buildings is conducted, Tim Gasper, sales director for Brady Trane, said that the project at RCC cost between $1 million and $2.5 million.
Gasper said that from a preliminary on-site review of all the buildings, his company has identified where $88,000 to $225,000 could be saved each year in energy costs.
“We guarantee this amount of savings each year for the entire length of the contract,” Gasper said. “If the savings drops below that, we pay the bill. We’ve had to do that only twice in all the projects we have done.”
Pamela Hilbert, RCC’s president, said the advantage of entering into a performance contract is that the money available from energy savings would be used to pay for improvements and pay back any loan.
“Our biggest need is to upgrade our air handling systems,” she said.
Gasper said that his company has done work on a performance contract basis at other colleges and universities in North Carolina including Fayetteville State University, Lenoir Community College, Edgecombe Community College and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Gasper said that since the project would be funded by revenue generated by energy efficiency, there would be no additional appropriation needed from the county commissioners. There also would be no need for a tax increase to fund the project, he said.
According to Gasper, construction would probably take about one year. Financing for the project would be a bank loan over 16 years, with interest rates most likely being 3 percent or less, he said.
Andy Nightengale, director of engineering for Brady, said that he spent several days going through RCC facilities and identified where improvements could be made to bring about energy cost savings. He said he looked at such things as central utility plant upgrade, weatherization, water conservation, plug load management and air handlers.
“There will be a final project change after the investment grade audit,” Nightengale said. “This is just a cost estimate because we did not have the time to do an in-depth study. We need more data.”
According to Hilbert, if the college decides to enter into an agreement with Brady Trane, the county commissioners will have to pass a resolution stating that the county over the entire length of the contract will not reduce the funds it allocates to RCC to be used to pay utility expenses.
The state Local Government Commission, which must approve any performance contract entered into by a community college, will not approve a project that does not have such a commitment from the county board.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.