Ruffle GRU's feathers


Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:08 p.m.
It's clear that Eileen Roy is the odd member out on the School Board.
The high school teacher turned board member frequently clashes with fellow members, who apparently think she asks too many questions and makes too many demands on Superintendent Dan Boyd.
Still, perhaps her colleagues overreacted this week when they took Roy to task for her suggestion that the district ought to try to get a better deal from Gainesville Regional Utilities.
"The School Board is the second largest GRU customer after the city and GRU itself," Roy said this week. So why can't the district qualify for GRU's "Large Power Rate," for major customers?
Good question. In 2004, the district spent more than $3 million for electricity. That's not small change.
Apparently, Gainesville High School is the only one in the district that qualifies for Large Power rates. That's because most schools have multiple electric meters rather than one. The question is whether more schools might qualify for LP rates if GRU billed on aggregate rather than individual meter readings.
It's a fair question. But board members seemed more concerned that Roy may have made a GRU official "distraught" over her persistent inquiries about rates.
"Personally, I think GRU has been a great partner with the school system," said board member Tina Pinkoson. "I'm not willing to damage that relationship by demanding a new rate structure."
It's been our experience that GRU officials have pretty thick skins. They get worked over fairly regularly at City Commission meetings, so the odd inquiry about rates from a School Board member probably isn't going to ruffle too many feathers at GRU.
All of which raises a larger question. Why shouldn't the school district at least pursue negotiations aimed at getting a better deal? What's the harm?
For that matter, why stop there?
Coincidently, on the same evening that Roy was being "castigated," to use her term, the Charlotte County School Board made a deal with a Texas-based consulting firm that promises to save the district nearly $10 million in energy costs over a decade in return for about $2 million in fees. The consulting firm, Energy Education, claims a client list of about 720 other public school districts across the country, so it's clear that educators all over America are looking to spend less money on kilowatt hours so they can spend more on teachers and books. Energy Education uses uses computer software, energy management programs and "behavior modification" to help districts change their energy consumption habits.
In an October memo Roy urged Boyd to consider the services of an energy analysis consulting firm. Roy cited a Gainesville-based company, Commercial Utility Econometrics, that she said has worked with school districts in Polk, Orange and Lake counties.
Board members ought to be open to the possibility that Roy may be on to something.
Whether or not the district may be able to qualify for a better rate deal as a GRU major customer, the idea of taking a more comprehensive look at its energy consumption and costs may be worth pursuing.

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