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Leechburg Area school board ponders deal to help reduce energy costs

| Friday, April 11, 2014, 8:40 a.m.

The Leechburg Area School District could receive between $35,000 and $68,000 over the next five years if it enters into an agreement with a global energy technology provider.

The board will vote on April 24 to approve the five-year agreement with EnerNOC, which is offering to pay the district to reduce its energy output during peak demand periods.

Should the board vote in favor of the agreement, EnerNOC would pay for and install a smart reader to gauge the district's output levels and determine how most of its energy is consumed.

EnerNOC would pay the district per request to reduce output when high consumption levels threaten the area's energy supply, said Mark Lukacs, Leechburg Area business manager.

“Basically, they'll be monitoring our energy levels and paying us to save when they're experiencing an event,” he said. “It's a win-win for the district because it costs nothing to enter into the agreement and there are no cost consequences to declining their requests.”

The district is one of few in Pennsylvania without this type of agreement in place, Lukacs said. Another corporation approached the district with a similar offer several years ago, but was dismissed by then Superintendent Jim Budzilek because of the nominal amount of money offered.

Holding out then could prove to be a lucrative decision, Lukacs says, since larger corporations have gravitated toward these types of programs in recent years and are offering greater rewards.

Lukacs said it is too early to tell how and with what frequency EnerNOC would pay the district. The overall payment estimates come from the Boston-based corporation, whose closest office is in Baltimore.

Leechburg Area will be paid most often during the winter and summer months, when energy levels spike with increased air conditioning and heating use, Lukacs said.

The district will be able to better determine how it will lower its energy levels if the board approves the agreement by reviewing the data collected by EnerNOC's smart reader. Even if EnerNOC doesn't pay the district a penny, Leechburg Area will save in energy costs by using the meter's findings to improve its efficiency.

“It probably wouldn't be a huge amount of money,” Lukacs said, “but with funding being the way it is, it's important to find ways to save wherever you can.”

Leechburg Area is proposing its first tax hike in four years for the 2014-15 school year. As it stands, taxes will increase 4.2 percent in the district's Armstrong County communities and 3.2 percent in West Leechburg, Westmoreland County.

The proposed hikes are to balance the district's $13.6 million preliminary budget, which is plagued by ballooning health care, retirement and transportation costs.

Lukacs said district officials are waiting to see how the state Legislature responds to Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget before taking further action on its spending plan. The governor's budget, which determines state funding for education, must be finalized before July.

Superintendent search

The Leechburg Area School Board hopes to hire a superintendent next month.

The position was left vacant in March by Terence Meehan, who was hired from the New Castle Area School District in December and backed out after the death of a family member.

About a dozen new applicants, in addition to the 13 that were originally submitted this winter, are being reviewed for the opening.

“We're really in the beginning stages of the process again,” board member Carlotta Del Vecchio said. “We are optimistic about making a hire in May, though.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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