Spring Forum 2015

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...
How to decide when and how to move forward with an energy project

February 13, 2015

Crestline Elementary School, Vancouver

This year’s Spring Forum discussed the process of implementing energy projects and specifically addressed issues faced by governmental organizations and the contractors who serve them.  This forum was held at Evergreen School District’s Crestline Elementary School in Vancouver, WA, a recently constructed school upgraded with LED linear lighting, operable window shades, high performance heating and other energy efficient improvements.

Our first speaker of the day was Jennifer Halleck from Vancouver Public Schools (VPS). VPS serves over 23,000 students at over 43 locations in Vancouver. As the Administrator in Facilities, Planning and Resource Conservation, Jennifer’s key role is as a facilitator of people, resources and information. Jennifer described some of the exciting advances in energy conservation and awareness that VPS has undertaken in recent years.  One example is the Green Teams which operate at both the school and district level. Each school has a Green Team which is made up of one administrator, one teacher, the head custodian, one student and one parent.  These teams meet to create goals, share information and implement projects at their schools.  Each school’s Green Team is in regular contact with Jennifer and her district Green Team which consists of representatives from maintenance, planning, community services, custodians, crew leaders and HVAC technicians. Jennifer also discussed programs like the “Save our Scraps” composting program and the integration of ecological awareness education through the Washington Green Schools program.  Additionally, Jennifer also discussed how VPS moved the purchasing department to be under the umbrella of resource conservation and how VPS maintains a staff of electricians, HVAC techs, carpenters and controls experts in order to self-perform maintenance.  This structure allows VPS to be an outstanding leader in energy efficiency in the region.

Our next speaker was Kelly Stevens-Malnar with the Oregon Cooperative Procurement Program and Statewide Outreach Coordinator at the Department of Administrative Services/Procurement Services. Kelly provided an excellent overview of the rules, laws and codes that govern public contracting in Oregon and Washington.   Kelly began with an explanation of where to find the codes, who they pertain to, what they govern and how they are implemented. This is a somewhat complicated structure that Kelly helped us to understand by use of hierarchical diagrams and practical information. Kelly next discussed the process of the “buy decision” from the point of view of school districts and municipalities, and from vendors and contractors serving them.  The different procurement methods like Small Procurement, Emergency Procurement, Sole Source Procurement, Competitive Sealed Bidding (ITB), Competitive Sealed Proposals (RFP) and Intermediate Procurement were explained.  Kelly presented the different legal definitions and prerequisite conditions for each method as well as the location of the relevant codes in the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) and the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS). To close her informative presentation, Kelly made us all laugh with the cautionary tale of Dennis the Fish and the lesson we should learn about performing a risk assessment before taking on a project that may have high costs.

How to Sell an Energy Project to an Owner/ Administrator

The next speaker was Cam Hamilton, Business Case Manager for Ameresco-Quantum. Mr. Hamilton has worked in the energy efficiency industry for over 20 years and provided valuable insight to buy-in strategies for energy efficiency investments. Most energy projects, even ones that make good financial sense, often get delayed or worse - get shelved. Energy managers need tools to help them better sell their energy projects to their organization. Mr. Hamilton outlined a strategic game plan for being prepared to address statements such as, “Energy isn’t a core competency for us”, “We can’t afford it”, Other projects have better returns” - and every other possible excuse to not invest in energy efficiency.

Some key strategy points for increasing the green light potential on your energy project included:

Preparing for Success. Start this discussion early. Designate a single champion to build the right a team and engage with internal and/or external stakeholders who must all be in favor of the energy investment.

  1. Know who the key decision makers are. Whose decision is it anyway? Know not only who can say yes but who can say no. Does everyone in the decision making chain understand how the investment will benefit their department or interest area? Connect with someone higher up who supports energy.
  2. Know the organization’s goals. CFOs and financial managers are inundated with copious requests for capital budgets. Align what you want to accomplish with the organizations budget process and goals. Know your organization’s financial criteria (ROI, IRR, Simple Payback). Position the energy project so that decision makers understand that you are tackling wasted money that can pay for the energy investment. Speak the CFO and financial manager’s language.

Craft the right message. Redefine the energy project as an energy efficiency investment. Couch the energy project as a money maker and not a money taker. Tie the energy efficiency investment to a positive return for the organization. Look at competitors what are they doing?

  1. Know the cash flow and options. The energy measure must pass the financial test. Does the organization have the ability to lease or secure loan funding for the energy investment? Financing may cost less than the energy savings which provide a net positive cash flow. Position energy expenditures as a cost you can manage and reduce. Present the utility incentives and tax benefits to the financial decision makers. Be prepared to scale the project to secure the right level to gain project support. Provide cash flow that presents the investment in energy efficiency cost vs. savings.
  2. Get support data. Benchmark and use real data when at all possible. Utilize Energy Star Portfolio Manager or similar to generate real energy use index or utility cost/ft2 metrics. Scope the project with solid cost estimates, energy savings, O&M savings, and other intangible benefits. Estimate the utility incentives. Identify measures that make up energy efficiency investment.

Develop a solid business case. Follow your organization guidelines. Keep it short and to the point but add detail in the appendices. Address building performance against peer facilities, financial metrics, operational enhancements, other benefits. Use pictures to convey the situation. Bring in the right resources to support your business case– auditors, financiers, equipment suppliers, consultants.

Mr. Hamilton concluded with stating that the recipe for success is often is the right message, to the right people, at the right time.

From Bond to Building – a Case Study for Maximizing Energy Efficiency

And the last forum speaker, Elin Shepard, an Outreach Manager for Energy Trust of Oregon’s New Buildings Program, presented a case study on the LEED Gold Parkrose Middle School, which is one of seven (7) schools that comprise the Parkrose School District (PRSD) located in northeast Portland.

The project began like most school districts with funding from a bond that passed in 2010. There was extensive community engagement right from the beginning of this project. The primary goal was to construct a school with longevity in mind and a focus on energy efficiency.  The PRSD worked closely with Portland General Electric and the Energy Trust to maximize their incentives. They decided to pursue LEED certification for the middle school, and even expanded that scope to integrate two net zero multi-purpose rooms at two other elementary school renovations. All told the RPSD saved an estimated 150,000 kWh in electricity and 35,000 therms of natural gas over a code building.

Ms. Shepard went on describe the Energy Trust New Buildings incentives PRSD utilized. The program provides cash incentives and energy solutions for a variety of project types including: new construction, major renovation, tenant improvements, and additions. The program offers design solutions – early design assistance, energy modeling, and two commissioning options. There are also ‘system-by-system’ incentives for installing equipment that meets specific needs. Energy Trust has created lighting and HVAC spreadsheet tools for calculating these savings and incentives. They also have a ‘modeled savings’ approach for calculating equipment incentives on projects that completed an energy model. Finally, there is the whole-building approach that includes ‘market solutions for schools’ that provide prospective good, better, best equipment options for projects under 70,000 SF. Some electives mentioned included exterior lighting, bi-level lighting in corridors, plug-loads, Energy Star® kitchen equipment, and domestic hot water.

Ms. Shepard also announced Energy Trust’s new ‘Path to Net-Zero’ incentive program. 


Jennifer Halleck 

Kelly Stevens-Malnar

Cam Hamilton

Elin Shepard