Lebanon School Board OKs Energy Contract

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lebanon — School officials on Wednesday approved a 20-year contract with consulting firm Trane Building Advantage to provide about $4.5 million in energy upgrades at Lebanon’s schools.

The School Board voted, 6-2, in support of the contract, with board members Christina Haidari and Susan Louzier opposed.

Trane is expected to install heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, solar panels and water conservation systems upfront under the deal, which would be financed by annual district budgets and essentially paid for through the money saved on energy costs. Trane estimates the projects could save $7.3 million over two decades, and about $627,000 will be returned to school coffers.

The contract also will go before voters at the district’s annual school meeting in March. If that vote passes, construction could begin this summer, according to Trane officials.

Much of the discussion on Wednesday revolved around what type of energy the district should convert to, with some members of the public advocating for renewable fuel sources.

Although Trane’s proposal would add solar panels to nearly every school’s roof, it also plans to install a propane boiler at Lebanon High School.

“I encourage you to consider a lot of options before you go with propane, which is a fossil fuel,” said Ariel Arwen, a member of the city’s Energy Advisory Committee.

The city’s master plan calls for pursuing sustainable energy solutions, she said, adding that should be the goal for officials.

City Councilor Clifton Below also recommended looking into alternative energy options and exploring what other districts have accomplished by lowering carbon emissions.

However, Trane’s overall proposal could be considered a “great leap forward” from the district’s current energy standing, he said.

“I think it’s an important thing that you’re doing,” Below told the School Board during public comments. Trane doesn’t prefer one type of energy over another, said Matt Wilson, an account executive with the firm’s Manchester office.

Rather, its plan draws on input from district officials, he said.

“We have no agenda as it related to which direction you go,” Wilson said.

If the company were to install a wood chip boiler at the high school, it would cost $2.1 million as opposed to about $400,000 for the propane system, Trane estimated.

That’s largely because a wood system would require much more infrastructure to accompany it, Wilson explained.

“The challenge, I think, for the district and for the board is, what’s the best decision for you now and (in) the future? ” he said.

Board members also asked about the possibility of switching to renewable fuel oil, or RFO. A form of biomass, the fuel system recently was installed at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Wilson replied that Trane assisted the college in that project, but RFO fuel requires a special boiler.

There’s only one company that provides it, he added, meaning the district likely would be required to sign a five- or 10-year fuel plan.

“Bates’ driver was no fossil fuel,” Wilson said. “Their drive wasn’t economics, it was environment.”

School Board members also asked why they should enter into the contract rather than bond Lebanon’s projects and retain savings for the district.

Financing through Trane’s help avoid the 60 percent voter approval threshold at the annual school district meeting, which large bonds require, said Tim Ball, the district’s finance director. It also allows for more flexible payments and potentially lower interest rates, he said.

Ultimately, the board decided to approve Trane’s proposal, including the propane system for Lebanon High School.

“That would be our starting point and if we wanted to go to a wood boiler system, it would have to be paid for by making cuts somewhere else,” said Richard Milius, the board’s vice chairman.

The district’s energy discussion also comes at a time when it is considering a proposal for $27 million in new construction and renovations of school buildings.

A discussion about those potential projects is scheduled for the board’s next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 at Lebanon Middle School.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com.