School Board delays discussing suit, looks to conserve energy

Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 9:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 10:50 p.m.

Conserving energy needs to be in the Alachua County school district's future, School Board members said Tuesday, as they expressed support during a School Board meeting for hiring an energy czar and tapping into solar energy.

Left off Tuesday night's agenda was a discussion on the termination of an agreement with Gainesville Regional Utilities, which has given the school district discounts on its electricity bills but now has acted to rescind those discounts.

Ed Gable, facilities director, said the savings from an energy incentive program in its first year — totalling more than $610,000 — could be expanded with the hiring of an energy conservation specialist.

"We see what happened two years ago when there was the focus on it," he said. "We need to keep that stirred up and keep that happening, and that will save us money."

The recommendation comes nearly five years after Superintendent Dan Boyd recommended hiring such a person and not a minute too soon, said School Board member Eileen Roy.

"When we let months and even years pass before we take action, we lose money and credibility with the voters," she said.

Boyd said the delay comes down to voting power.

"It takes three people on the School Board to make something happen," he said. "It's not Mr. Gable's fault it didn't move. We didn't have the votes for it at the time."

The job description could include a technical focus, such as monitoring and reporting as well as promoting conservation, Gable said.

"I don't really have enough time in my day to do this and the other things I do," Gable said.

School Board chair Barbara Sharpe said she appreciates what the district has done in the past to conserve energy.

"Everyone will have to buy into this," she said. "Not only the principals but the teachers and everybody."

It has to be proven that the position would pay for itself and save the district money, said School Board member Carol Oyenarte.

"Other than that, I think it's great," she said.

"Some counties have done it well and we can learn from them. Let's not reinvent the wheel."

School Board member April Griffin said she hopes the position can be filled by the end of the school year so the specialist could get to work over the summer.

The School Board also approved the submission of an application to the solar feed-in tariff program offered by GRU. If selected, 10 schools could get solar panels at no cost to the district.

Gable said the district could receive as much as $250,000 each year for 20 years for leasing the roof space to investors.

Griffin said it's a win-win situation for all involved.

Roy thanked Solar Impact of Gainesville and Gable for working on the application.

"I've been hoping and praying that we get solar very soon in the district," she said.

The application will be entered into the program, which will likely select businesses in a lottery system. Investors would pay for any roof repairs needed at each site.

An item discussing the termination of a business partners agreement by GRU was removed from the agenda. GRU ended the agreement, which provided discounts on electricity bills, after the school district failed to pay stormwater fees to the city of Gainesville for 2010.

Boyd said the issue would be discussed during an executive board meeting due to pending and current litigation.

Rick Nesbitt, a former School Board candidate, urged the board not to enter into litigation.

"Let's set an example of what the citizens are asking for in responsible leadership in this community," he said.

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