Oregon’s Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and members of the state Legislature are attempting to create an enormous works program by paving the way for millions of dollars in energy-efficiency retrofits in the state’s public schools.
“This is a pretty big, complex project for a small state like Oregon,” says Kitzhaber spokesman Ian Greenfield. “It’s our major jobs package, and it could potentially employ thousands of Oregonians.” The scale of work could be unprecedented, Greenfield said.
Kitzhaber’s first act as governor in January was to shift $2 million in unused American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to conduct energy audits on 500 to 600 schools in the state—about half of the state’s elementary and secondary schools.
A package of bills introduced in the state House of Representatives by Reps. Jefferson Smith (D) and Jules Bailey (D) would create a bonding mechanism for the schools to pay for the energy-efficiency improvements highlighted in the audits. Then, individual schools or school districts could contract with energy service providers to perform the work, and the schools would keep any energy-related savings after paying back the ESP.
Currently, if a school has energy-efficiency work done, they do not retain the savings, said Alex Banks, director of Apollo Solutions Group, an ESP based in Kennewick, Wash.
“This is a fiscally responsible way to create jobs. It will put money back into Oregon’s infrastructure,” Banks says. “We’re already spending the money. We aren’t spending it efficiently.”
One of the bills in the Smith-Bailey package would require every Oregon school to achieve Silver certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.
During a hearing on the bills in front of the House of Representatives Education Committee earlier this month, Smith said the retrofitting of schools will be a 10-year effort.
“There is much more here than energy savings,” Bailey said at the hearing. “When kids learn in a healthy environment, they perform better.”
Kitzhaber is expected to propose his own package of bills for the school retrofit program. Greenfield said the primary difference between the governor’s proposal and the bills introduced by Smith and Bailey would be in the way bonds for the program are handled.
No price tag has yet been placed on the program, though the U.S. Dept. of Energy has already identified $100 million of available school retrofits.
Greenfield said the program could have various levels, starting with lightbulb and shell retrofits and eventually including woody biomass boilers.
Stephen Kafoury, who works with Apollo Solutions Group, told the Education Committee that he had been talking with the governor’s office. “I can guarantee you that tens of millions of dollars will be available for school districts,” Kafoury said.