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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 11, 2010

BKW gets $222K solar grant from NYSERDA

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Berne-Knox-Westerlo learned last week of a shining new piece to its soon-to-be renovated energy infrastructure: a $221,787 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for a 41-kilowatt, photovoltaic solar panel on the middle-high school’s gym roof.

“Most people got nothing,” said Mike Daskalakis, one of Honeywell’s performance contracting engineers, of other districts that applied for solar grants. “And that’s actually the better system because it’s the larger system,” he said of the solar panel, “so, it worked out really well, and the timing was just perfect.”

“A lot of this work,” Project Manager Eian Kurro added later, “is going to be done this summer, before the heating season, with the exception, of course, of the tie-in with the capital project.”

While he was unsure of the full cost of the solar panel, Daskalakis said the grant will likely cover between 60 and 70 percent, and possibly more. Savings from the solar panel — $5,000 a year — could pay for whatever the grant doesn’t cover in as little as four years because of state building aid, he said.

“And, as electric rates go up, which is the only way they know how to go, it will be more every year,” Daskalakis said.

NYSERDA had announced the awarding of the grant at a conference in Cohoes on March 2. BKW residents present at the district office for last week’s school board meeting learned of the grant during a presentation from Honeywell on the details of its energy performance contract, which the district plans to weave into the long-awaited, $12.7-million building project, which BKW voters approved in December of 2007. It will include a new cafeteria, a new technology room, renovations to the gymnasium, an expanded auditorium, and new bathrooms and locker rooms in the middle-high school — all accessible to people with handicaps.

The school board signed a letter of intent this summer to work with Honeywell on the $1.2-million energy performance contract, which will upgrade the district’s methods of energy production.

In its plan to refresh its energy infrastructure, BKW had considered employing Johnson Controls for the project, but the company’s controversial proposal of a 100-kilowatt windmill in the field behind the school was largely what made Johnson Controls an unattractive candidate, according to then-Superintendent Steven Schrade, so the district went with Honeywell.

Representatives from Honeywell met with the BKW School Board last week to flesh out the details of the energy performance contract, and agreed with past statements from the district that the energy plan should be coordinated with the long-awaited building project.

At a Feb. 11 meeting, Karl Griffith, the project’s architect, told the school board that he hopes the building project will go out to bid this month; that the elementary school building will be worked on this summer, and the middle-high school, next summer; and that construction could begin on June 1 of this year.

Honeywell’s plan

Mike Hagin, a business developer at Honeywell and part of the company’s team for the project, began by telling the board that the need for an energy performance contract lay in BKW’s “aging infrastructure” and “insufficient building controls.”

“We really need to integrate the capital plan, and we really need to make the capital plan have some budget relief,” Hagin told onlookers. “Move some money to another pot, but also drive economy, drive efficiency, drive production and performance.”

Daskalakis then delved into the technical details and answered questions on the specific ways that the school will be upgraded.

New lights

The lights in each building will be retrofitted.

“We’d like to reduce your operating costs, both on the energy side and on the operating side: changing out lamps, changing out ballasts, and any future maintenance,” said Daskalakis.

He went into some detail on specific lighting changes to be made.

“In the gyms, we’re going away from those lights that — you turn them on in the morning, and they stay on until the last person is here at the end of the night because it takes 15 to 20 minutes for them to come up to full brightness, so nobody likes to turn those off,” Daskalakis said. “We’re going to standard fluorescents in there; you get a lot of light out of them, you get much better color in the spaces…Sometimes, those bigger lights throw off yellows and grays; these are a nice white light, so the gyms look better. You’re going to be redoing your gym anyway, so it’ll really make that space better.”

Having heard of research into the questionable safety of fluorescent lights, which typically flicker at such a high speed that it cannot be detected by the human eye, school board member Helen Lounsbury asked what potential negative effects these new lights may have on students. Daskalakis replied that, from a safety standpoint, the new lights will be safer than those currently installed.

“It will actually be better than the systems that are in the buildings now,” Daskalakis said. “And typically, you’ll find that people who have that sensitivity to light maybe are special-needs, maybe [autistic] students, where they are really much more aware of their environment than a typical student who doesn’t notice that. But now…the flicker rate is so much different,” and newer lights, he said, do not cause this problem.

There will also be occupancy sensors in the room, so lights will automatically turn off when the room is empty.

Daskalakis also spoke to the board about its plans to install a computer power management system, which will communicate with all of the 300-plus computers on the BKW campus.

“What we’ll do is put software on there that will be able to talk to all the computers on the network, either Windows-based or Macintosh-based, and turn them off when they’re not in use,” said Daskalakis. This system will likely cost $14 to $17 per computer, but, through energy savings, the system should pay for itself in less than a year, he said.

Heating upgrades

Next, Daskalakis covered the upgrades to the district’s heating systems.

“In this administration building, what you’ve got right now is a combination of oil and hot water,” he began. “You’ve got an oil boiler that basically pumps hot water through the older sections of the building, and a lot of the newer sections have electric heat. Fairly costly, not a good way to be able to control the spaces.”

The new, variable heat pump system will have the appearance of an outdoor air-conditioning unit.

“This is a variable refrigerant volume heat pump system that heats in the winter, cools in the summer,” he said, adding that it could cool the information technology area during the winter, so no window would be needed.

In addition, propane-fired infrared heaters will be installed in the bus garage maintenance bays and snowplow storage areas.

“Rather than heating up the air…these actually heat the items — heat the floor, heat the tools, heat the people, heat the buses,” he said. This new system, he said, will be 50-percent more efficient than the current oil heating, and, though it takes longer to heat the air in the space, each object in the room gets warmer faster.

“If you just come into the building, and turn on your heat in the morning…your system that you have right now would take a lot longer,” Daskalakis said. “Sometimes, it might only pick up one degree an hour, sometimes two degrees an hour. That all depends on how cold it is outside, where this is really just like how the sun is. So, if you’ve ever gone outside on a really cold day, but it’s really sunny, you can feel that warmth coming in the window. That’s that radiant infrared that you’re feeling,” he said.

Hagin commented on the infrared heating as well, drawing on stories, told by his father, of working in a garage with a similar system.

“When they put one of these systems in, you’ll find that the guys are much more productive,” Hagin said. “Usually, when they get cold, they go where the heater is; but here, they grab a tool, and it’s already warm; they touch the bus, the bus is already warm; they work in an environment where the things they’re working on are comfortable to touch.”

Enhancing efficiency

Daskalakis also said the district should replace the electric dishwasher in the elementary school with a propane-heated one. He also advised the district that its oil-fired boilers, which heat the middle-high school with steam, should be replaced with propane-fired, condensing hot-water boilers to heat the building, as well as upgrading steam traps and steam piping insulation in the elementary school.

The next item Daskalakis addressed was the direct-digital-controls system, allowing for centralized management and automation of some of the school’s energy producing technologies, “picking up this building, the bus garage, the new systems in this building, the elementary school, and the sections in the high school that are not picked up through the capital job,” he said. “The benefits to that are occupied-unoccupied set-points, you can set up your holidays in there, you can do your outdoor resets, you can tie things into CO2 monitoring…You bring the correct amount of outside air in for the people in the buildings. It tracks the amount of oxygen and CO2 in the spaces.”

Also included in Honeywell’s plan will be weather-stripping for doors to the outside and points where the roofs meet with the walls, as well as adding solar films onto all exterior windows, which, Daskalakis said, will reduce heating costs.

“The more you get students involved in these kinds of things, the better off they are,” Hagin added, and there is a potential educational element to the project “the more you can get them engaged in energy conservation,” he said.

Hagin concluded, “It is an energy performance contract — if we don’t perform, then we pay, so we’ll be monitoring it very carefully.”

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