Schools consider switch

Published 11:47 pm Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Beaufort County School Board is considering a switch from fluorescent lighting to LED bulbs. The issue was discussed during a recent Building/Grounds and Finance Committee meeting. The committee has been looking into LED lighting for about 18 months, said Beaufort County Schools superintendent Dr. Don Phipps.
After reviewing a year of the school system’s energy bills, visiting and auditing the schools, Hyperion Energy Group and Paradigm Capital Advisors presented the estimated costs and return on investment to the district.
Paradigm, the school system’s financial advisor, has been talking to Hyperion for about a year and negotiated a five-year warranty on any system the school district installed. The warranty is well above industry standards.
Committee members questioned the product safety, costs and quality. Members were also skeptical of installing a product that was not widely in use.
Paradigm advisor Al Chesson said he has a background in building medical facilities and understood the committee’s skepticism.
“But, what we’ve seen, we know it’s coming. It’s the way to go. It’s just a matter of when,” Chesson said.
If the school system chooses to hold off on LED systems, it will continue to replace outdated T12 fluorescent lighting with T8. Phipps said the school system would end up spending more money in the long run because the T8’s would eventually be phased out.
Committee members requested referrals from the schools that have already installed the system.
“We haven’t done public schools. But, we have done universities,” said Hyperion’s David Pierson during a teleconference with committee members Monday. “Retrofitting LEDs with school systems that don’t have the budget that universities have is relatively a new thing.”
Up to this point, Texas-based Hyperion has only installed the systems in Waco and Austin universities. Baylor University has had the lighting system longest.
Paradigm advisor Robert Griffin said LED lighting had several advantages.
“The fact of the matter is the quality of the lighting is just outstanding,” he said.
The lights are also expected to last 11 to 15 years. They are averaging about 13 years.
“There is a tremendous savings when LED lighting is put in,” Griffin told the committee.
He said the energy use and the maintenance of the lighting were major sources in savings.
Washington High School has outdated fluorescent lights that will need to be replaced sooner than any other school in the district.
The LED system would cost $428,564, according to Hyperion. But the district would recoup that initial investment within four years of installation because of the savings in energy and maintenance. LED lights would use 59 percent less energy than fluorescents at Washington.
It would save the district $50,924 a year in lighting. Factor in the cost of maintenance and the savings would be more than $93,000 a year.
At Southside High School, replacing the outdoor lights (at a cost of $20,520) would reduce the energy bill by 75 percent and the district would start seeing the savings within 15 months.
Replacing Southside’s indoor lighting would cost $310,219 and reduce the energy bill by 59 percent.
The biggest obstacle for the school system is funding. The school system currently has a $25,000 lighting budget.
The committee will look for grants and seek financial assistance from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
Hyperion suggested financing as an option. Jim Nance, a financial advisor with Paradigm, said financing would not be considered.
Phipps was also against financing.
“We’re going to talk with commissioners and look for the money. We can’t borrow money for something like this,” Phipps said.