Horry County’s five new schools will not generate as much energy nor save the district as much money as first proposed.
Before the district went $70 million over its initial budget to build five new energy-positive schools, First Floor Energy CEO Robbie Ferris said in an October 2014 board meeting that he could produce five schools which would generate 40 percent more energy than they used. In another meeting a week later, he said the school district could make money off the power bill.
After Ferris’ proposal, the school board voted to throw out their current school building plan and began soliciting bids for five energy-positive schools.
To be energy cost-neutral, you have to generate about 40 percent more energy than you consume.
Robbie Ferris, CEO of First Floor Energy
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Current estimates from First Floor Energy show the schools will produce between 7 and 11 percent more energy than they consume, and Ferris said in an email this week that the schools will have to be “optimized” during their first year in order to get a more accurate estimate.
Optimization means electrical systems will be fine tuned in order to use less electricity and become more efficient, according to Keith Pehl, who works for Optima Energy. Optima Energy performs electricity services for FirstFloor.
The district’s bid solicitation asked for energy-positive schools, which means the schools should produce more energy than they consume, but did not specify that the schools produce 40 percent more energy than they consume.
“What I am 100 percent confident in is that we will comply with the requirements of the (request for proposals) to generate more electricity then we will consume,” he said in an email Friday.
An August 2016 spreadsheet, obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Horry County Schools, shows that yearly energy consumption for the new schools could be greater than production during the first year.
But Pehl said in an email that those estimates only were used to help the district determine its utility budget, and Ferris said this week the current 7 to 11 percent estimates were accurate. The numbers changed as equipment was purchased and actual energy use was calculated, as opposed to estimated energy use, Pehl said.
If you compare that to what the school system would have spent on power a traditional school there’s still a significant savings.
Robbie Ferris, CEO of First Floor Energy
During the 2014 meeting before the bid solicitation, Ferris said the district could save between $68 million and $97 million over 40 years by building energy-positive schools.
The district will face for four of the schools an energy bill estimated at $67,000 per school, per year, and $52,000 for one, according to budget documents obtained from the school district. Meaning the district will save around $500,000-$700,000 per year when compared to the utility budgets of other similar schools, which range between $165,000 to $210,000.
In order to save $68 million in 40 years, the district would have to save $1.7 million per year. If they continued to save $700,000 per year, it could take the district 97 years to save $68 million.
“To be energy cost-neutral, you have to generate about 40 percent more energy than you consume,” Ferris said during the Feb. 20 school board meeting. “So we’re going to generate just a little bit more than we consume, which means we will not be cost-neutral which means there will be a small power bill. If you compare that to what the school system would have spent (to) power a traditional school, there’s still a significant savings.”
How did we get here?
On Sept. 11, 2014, the district issued a Request for Qualifications to companies that could bid for three new schools and one replacement school after paying environmental service firm Cardno TEC $875,000 for a district-wide needs assessment.
On Oct. 20, 2014, DeFeo introduced Ferris, who pitched to the board his idea for five energy-positive schools which would produce 40 percent more energy than they consumed.
On Nov. 10, 2014, the board voted to scrap the first Request for Qualifications, and a new request for energy-positive schools was issued Feb. 26, 2015.
The new request required three new schools and two replacement schools: a new intermediate school for the St. James area, a new middle school for the Carolina Forest area, a replacement middle school for the Myrtle Beach area, a new middle school for the Socastee area and a replacement elementary school for the Socastee area.
The request specified that “energy positive” meant the schools produce more energy than they use and that the schools are “high performance,” meaning “a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality and operational considerations.”
The school district narrowed down the responses to three firms - First Floor Energy, M.B. Kahn and Thompson Turner - asked the bidders to submit their proposals.
The board then spent $40,000 on Greenville-area consultant Louis Batson, who awarded each bidder a point value based upon schedule, energy-positive design, and several other criteria.
First Floor Energy was awarded the least amount of points.
But a 10-member selection committee made up of five board members chose First Floor Energy, and the board voted to approve the contract for $220 million, going $53 million over the initial budget. An additional $20 million of contingency funds upped the budget to $240 million.
Bidders M.B. Kahn and Thompson Turner had lower bid amounts at $184 million and $199 million, respectively, according to documents obtained from the district.
At the time of the vote, some board members expressed their belief that First Floor Energy was the only company that could deliver five energy-positive schools and in time for the 2017-18 school year.
Two of the schools will not be ready at the beginning of the school year.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian