If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. That’s advice we hope the Gardner City Council will heed as they consider acquiring more than $1.3 million in debt to finance energy upgrades.
According to a city energy audit conducted by contractor Burns and McDonnell, a list of projects including converting Kill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to natural gas and improving city hall heating and cooling systems will pay for themselves over the course of the next 11-plus years through energy savings.
According to consultant Tim Burkhalter’s estimates, the city will save approximately $120,000 each year that can be used to pay down debt on the projects.
Even better, if the projects don’t pay for themselves as the energy audit suggests, Burns and McDonnell will make up the difference between the net savings and the debt payment.
Of course, there’s a catch, or rather, several.
First, the way the contract would calculate “paying for itself” is highly subjective. It wouldn’t measure the difference between the dollars the city spent last year on electricity costs — $550,000 – and the amount the city would spend after the project was completed.
Burkhalter said there are too many variables, like a warmer or cooler summer, for measuring in that fashion.
Instead, Burns and McDonnell would tell the city how many kilowatts per hour they should expect, for example, more-energy-efficient lightbulbs to generate. Should those bulbs generate more than the number Burns and McDonnell suggests at the start, the company would have to pay some of the debt on that project.
Through the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), there are other ways to measure whether the completed contracts meet their savings obligations. But according to Burkhalter and a representative from KCC, the above-mentioned measuring stick is the preferred and most cost-effective tool used in such contracts.
Allowing contractors to set measuring tools that the general layperson doesn’t understand for their own projects doesn’t seem like the best and highest use of public dollars.
And then there are the promises that the equipment purchased and upgrades implemented in the $1.3 million projects will still be usable once they’re paid for 11-plus years from now.
Gardner’s city hall is less than 10 years old now. So is the Kill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
If the new equipment from 2004 isn’t good enough to use in 2011, why should taxpayers believe that equipment purchased in 2012 will still be in use in 2023?
Finally, there’s the issue of debt. Unless it is an emergency, and we submit these proposed energy projects are not, the city should refrain from acquiring more debt until the Walmart TIF comes off the books in 2016 or 2017.
This is the kind of spending that simply doesn’t occur in a typical, responsible family budget. For example, new, double pane windows rather than single-panes in a Gardner home would create energy savings for the average family. However, that family would be irresponsible to finance new windows if they can barely afford to feed their kids or gas up their cars.
There are things the city of Gardner needs right now. Feeling all good and green about a smaller carbon footprint doesn’t make the list.
And spending $1 that you don’t have today to save $2 a year from now doesn’t make sense.