NextEra Energy launches energy efficiency renovation for school district

Using an innovative financing approach, the Mt. Pleasant Independent School District (ISD) partnered with energy efficiency specialist NextEra Energy Solutions to upgrade lighting, replace aging HVAC equipment, lower operating and maintenance costs and deliver a improved educational environment for Mt. Pleasant students and staff.

The $7.5 million project, which will benefit almost all of the district's buildings, produces a positive cash flow in each of the 15 years of the contract term. The district will see more than $500,000 per year in savings, thus exceeding the total cost of the project. Construction began in April 2012 and is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2013.

Like many school districts throughout the country, the Mt. Pleasant ISD had an aging infrastructure, limited capital budgets, and expanding educational needs. Critical improvements were needed, but a bond referendum or other tax-based solution was not an option.

Working closely with the district, NextEra Energy Solutions created a multi-phase plan under which renovations would be done using a performance contracting agreement. Over the performance period of the contract, savings are guaranteed by the implementation of specific energy conservation measures (ECMs).

Additional savings will come in the form of rebates from the local utility and by taking advantage of a Department of Education loan program. NextEra helped the school district apply for utility rebates as well as a funding mechanism known as Qualified Zone Academy Bonds.

The federal QZAB program enables qualifying schools to borrow at nominal interest rates (as low as zero percent) for costs incurred in connection with improving energy efficiency, implementing renewable energy measures, and teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) academic curricula.

As part of the QZAB process, NextEra committed to make an in-kind contribution of products and services equal to 10 percent of the overall project cost. This included two 10-kW solar arrays that not only produce electricity, but also provide a teaching platform to support STEM curricula. Real-time information about the solar panels and their savings profile is available through all the district's computers and is used for classes on sustainable energy production and other topics.

The work at Mt. Pleasant ISD encompassed over 20 buildings, including elementary, middle and high schools as well as special education, administration, warehouse, and sports facilities. The total savings result from lower energy costs, reduced maintenance expense, and capital cost avoidance over 15 years.

The renovation program also delivered other tangible benefits besides energy conservation and reduced maintenance costs for older equipment. The addition of high-efficiency HVAC units markedly improved environmental conditions while saving energy.

Students and staff throughout the district now enjoy brighter, more consistent and uniform light levels in all buildings that were upgraded. Energy efficient floodlights, which will improve security and safety in outdoor areas of school facilities, were added as part of the project. A building automation system was also installed, enabling central control of the district buildings.

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