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Consultants pitch Mission on $17.7 million plan to install new water meters, reduce energy costs

This article originally appeared in the Friday June 14, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

The Mission City Council quizzed consultants Monday about a wide-ranging proposal to replace water meters, install LED lights and reduce utility costs.

Jonathan Blackwell, a business development manager for Performance Services Inc., pitched the nearly $17.7 million plan Monday during a City Council workshop.

City of Mission logoUnder the proposal, Mission would borrow money to replace all residential and commercial water meters, install LED lighting and upgrade air conditioning systems in city buildings. Blackwell said the project would pay for itself — guaranteed.

“We are transferring all the risk from the city of Mission to Performance Services,” Blackwell said. “And we don’t do change orders.”

City Councilman Ruben Plata and City Councilwoman Norie Gonzalez Garza responded with skepticism and a flurry of questions.

Blackwell attempted to assuage their concerns, providing a list of clients that included the La Joya Independent School District, the Agua Special Utility District, Nueces County and the city of Alice.

He also walked the City Council through the deal, a “Tax Exempt Lease Purchase” backed by Performance Services.

After accepting an analysis from Performance Services, which the company calls an “investment grade audit,” Mission would pay an independent engineer to verify the results. The city would contract with Performance Services after the independent engineer confirmed the estimated cost savings.

Performance Services estimated the plan would reduce annual water loss in the city utility system by 6.5 percent and provide about $7.5 million in what the company called “operational savings” over 20 years.

The company would also determine whether or not to “retro-commission” city buildings to reduce energy costs.

“That’s really, specifically, for one building. Your least efficient building based upon on our engineering study is the events center,” Blackwell said. “That’s your newest one. So we need to go in there and retro-commission it. It’s low cost to do. High return. So it’s something that we would highly recommend.”

Plata wasn’t impressed.

“This is a big decision for us right now,” Plata said. “And, personally, I don’t think we’re in the position to spend almost $18 million on a project.”

If installing energy efficient equipment always produced cost savings, everyone would install solar panels, Plata said, adding that few people actually follow through after reviewing the costs.

“I worked for a weatherization company and they tell you: ‘You know what, if you put solar panels on your house, you don’t have to pay electricity for the rest of your life.’ But to put the solar panels is going to cost you about $20,000. Guess how many people signed up?” Plata said. “The whole city would be filled up with solar panels if it was that easy. To me, I look at it the same way on a different scale.”

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