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Last week we were having a conversation to create a repair and replacement plan based on life cycle expectations for our performing arts facility. Of course, there are already a number of issues that needed to be addressed with some immediacy. The head of facility operations mentioned that these days there is little funding to be had for capital improvements. The only way to get much needed repairs and upgrades accomplished is via energy savings performance contracts. (ESPC)
The wikipedia description I linked to about performance contracts being a program for federal government entities is a little narrow. Nearly every state has a similar program, (Oregon has a good description), for themselves and their municipalities and many companies with large physical plants can benefit from them as well.
The benefit of a performance contract is that there is no up front cost to your institution. The company doing the work takes out loans and guarantees that the project will save you money in energy costs. Over the course of 25 years, you pay off the contract with the money you save.
As to whether ESPCs might be an option for arts organizations, I have looked at the programs of about 4-5 states. Other than Oregon’s which suggests a minimum of $100,000 in annual energy bills, there isn’t any clear guidance about what level of energy expense is appropriate to undertake such a project. Presumably your current bills should be relatively high as should the potential for energy saving to make it worth the while of your organization and the company undertaking the work.
You don’t necessarily have to be a governmental entity to have the work done. A couple of the vendors who provide ESPCs list retail and libraries as potential customers. Granted, they may be thinking supermarkets and libraries in need of excellent climate control for their collections rather than clothing stores and my neighborhood library.
But I think about the power use of theaters in particular with all their stage lighting and the energy savings that can be realized. LED lighting still has some color temperature and control issues which make them unsuitable for some uses, but the improvements come very quickly. Many theaters can benefit from upgrading their general lighting and HVAC systems.
When I was working in Hawaii the lighting in our lobby, offices, scene shop and exterior were all replaced. The illumination levels went up and the power use dropped immensely. My only gripe was that even with diffusion filters, the LEDs in some of the exterior stairwells were so sharply defined that it felt like you were furtively moving between pools of light.
My state arts council just sent out a survey yesterday and one question was about how they could better serve my organization. It wasn’t until after I finished the survey that it occurred to me to wonder if state arts councils couldn’t act as coordinators and guarantors on energy savings performance contracts.
Since many foundations aren’t providing capital improvement funding any more, this might prove to be a viable alternative. If a single organization wouldn’t realize enough savings to make a contract worthwhile, perhaps serving the needs of two or more organizations in the same community would be. The organizations could then turn around and use their energy savings to pay off the arts council (if not the energy contractor).
I am not sure what would happen if the organization went out of business or moved before the contract was paid off, but I am sure those considerations are already included in contracts for hospitals and other businesses.
Obviously, I am not fully acquainted with all the details of ESPCs to know how viable this would be. However, given how energy efficiency is becoming an area of increasing concern, I would not be surprised at all if the incentives for upgrading systems improved so over the next 10 years that it became easy for many arts organizations to do.
[Title of the post comes from the novel and movie, How Green Was My Valley]