School Board Says Energy Management Systems “Incompatible”

As construction progresses on the new Clarke County High School, the Clarke County School Board revealed Monday night that energy management software planned for the new facility is not compatible with CCPS’s other current energy management systems. The incompatibilities are forcing the school board to take a hard look at both its current energy management practices as well as how best to manage energy usage across CCPS’s campuses.

At Monday night’s school board meeting Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy said that the new high school’s energy management software control system will be supplied by Siemens Energy Solutions. However, current energy usage at the existing high school is managed using software supplied from a Texas firm, Schneider Electric. CCPS’s F&M Building and Cooley Elementary School are controlled by yet a third, less sophisticated, system.

“The three systems are not compatible,” Dr. Murphy told the School Board. “We need to take Siemens, Schneider Electric and our other systems and come up with a solution that works for Clarke County because in 18 months we are going to need something in place.”

Clarke County maintenance manager Bobby Levi, who joined the discussion by speaker phone, confirmed that the combination of Schneider Electric’s proprietary software and the company’s use of remote control processes to manage CCPS facilities makes it very difficult for his staff to assume the energy management responsibilities that Schneider currently performs.

“What we really need is more of an ‘energy control’ system and less of an ‘energy management’ system,” Levi said. “It’s hard to have energy management when you don’t have energy control.”

Based on prior discussion with Schneider Electric and Clarke County maintenance manager Bobby Levi, Murphy recommended that the school board authorize renewal of Schneider Electric’s contract for an additional year while other potential solutions are researched.

“Our system is functioning much better and Schneider Electric has dedicated appropriate resources during the last nine months to ensure our success,” Murphy stated in a memorandum included in the school board information packet. “As we move forward with the new high school, however, we are concerned that having multiple vendors for energy management systems will hamper our ability for maximum efficiency and productivity. As a result, it is also our recommendation to enter into a six month period of study to determine whether Schneider Electric, the new high school’s vendor (Siemens), or a third party provider would best meet the needs of the division.”

Murphy’s recommendation, at least in part, appeared linked to the fact that CCPS currently does not have the capability to take over management of the energy management processes.

However, at least one school board member questioned whether or not another year of Schneider Electric was economically worthwhile.

“This contract has already cost us $1.5M bucks and now they are asking for another $10K per year?” questioned Robina Bouffault (White Post). “Do we know if we have really seen any decrease in electricity costs? I just don’t believe what they’re telling us about cost savings.”

Murphy agreed with Bouffault and said that although Schnedier Electric supplied CCPS with large amounts of energy analysis data, the validity of Schneider Electric’s data is difficult to ascertain.

“We know that we can’t manage this process ourselves so we’d like to have an independent analysis of the different possible approaches,” Murphy said. “I agree with Ms. Bouffault. Although Schneider Electric has done a great job this year they did a questionable job last year.”

Although Murphy and the School Board agreed that the Schneider Electric decision was in place before the tenure of the current board members, the oversight of why a different energy management firm was chosen for the new high school was less clear.

“I’m not sure how we missed the fact that we had Schneider Electric in place already when we designed the new high school,” Murphy said.

“Maybe it was because at the time we were considering terminating their contract,” Bouffault replied.

The School Board agreed to defer its decision on whether or not to extend Schneider Electric’s contract until its next meeting on April 4th. School Board member Bouffault agreed to head the effort to determine how best to move forward with CCPS’s energy management challenges.