TARPON SPRINGS — Commissioners confirmed this week the city should move ahead with a $1.2 million energy savings plan designed to cut Tarpon Springs' energy bills.
Commissioners approved the project in March but briefly revived the discussion Tuesday to address what would happen in the off chance energy company Ameresco goes out of business.
Tarpon Springs hired Ameresco to investigate 14 city buildings — from the library to City Hall — for ways to save energy. The company identified dozens of opportunities to save, including switching to high-efficiency light bulbs and upgrading the air-conditioning systems.
The project's $1.2 million price tag is equal to nearly a year's worth of city utility bills, but the eventual savings would be substantial: about $91,000 per year, according to estimates.
That's the environmental equivalent of planting 144 acres of trees or powering 81 homes, Ameresco said.
If the savings fell short, Ameresco would write Tarpon Springs a check for the difference.
That's the promise that raised eyebrows for former Commissioner Chris Alahouzos.
"If the company goes out of business, how would we get our money?" he asked.
Tracey Gallentine, an Ameresco account executive, tried Tuesday to provide the answer.
No company can guarantee its own survival, she said, but Ameresco is a financially sound company with annual revenues of $630 million and a construction project backlog of $1.5 billion.
"The city has done the math," Gallentine said in a phone interview. "They're going to see a savings from the measures they've installed."
Clearwater, Tampa, New Port Richey and the Pinellas County school district have embarked on similar projects in recent years under a Florida program to encourage energy savings. Ameresco is on a list of about a dozen companies vetted by the state.
Alahouzos also questioned the city's decision not to request bids on the project.
Just because Ameresco won the bid for the energy audit doesn't necessarily mean it can offer the best price on installing the changes, he said. Anyway, he added, couldn't some of the work, such as changing light bulbs, be done by city staff?
"I'm in favor of saving energy, but my problem is with this process," Alahouzos said.
City Manager Mark LeCouris said there are good reasons for choosing Ameresco.
Tarpon Springs would owe the company $30,000 for the audit if the city went elsewhere for the energy upgrades, according to the contract. Also, another company might not pay the difference if energy savings are not achieved.
"The cities and the states set it up this way because this is the easiest, fastest, best way to do it," LeCouris said. "To me, this is a no-brainer."
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