Metering woes and a missing 22-year contract have left members of the Public Building Authority feeling as if they are “at the mercy” of the supplier of chilled water for the Millennium Centre’s air conditioning system.
At the PBA’s June meeting Wednesday, the conference and convention center’s operations manager, Terry Woodard, outlined the situation with Energy Systems Group that has worked to cool the relationship between the two entities faster than the industrial HVAC system in question.
Approximately six years ago, Woodard said the PBA signed a contract with Energy Systems Group, or ESG, to provide chilled water from the nearby Mountain Home VA Medical Center, with which ESG also holds contracts, to keep the 65,000-square-foot Millennium Centre cool.
The company also provided a consulting engineer to monitor the center’s Metasys building control system and help find efficiencies where possible.
The engineer helped to lower the center’s utilities costs by $77,000 in the first year, nearly paying for the cost of the contract, but shortly after, the engineer was pulled away from the Millennium Centre to work on a project for Johnson City, leaving no one to assess the data from the control system.
“From that point on, we saw those energy savings start to slip away, as ESG was contracted to manage our Metasys systems and try to find all of our efficiencies through utilities,” Woodard said. “As we became less of a priority to them, we started looking at Johnson Controls.”
Johnson Controls, the energy efficiency company that trademarked the Metasys building management system, was a good fit for the center, but three months into exploring a possible relationship with the new contractor, Woodard said Assistant City Manager Bob Wilson encouraged the Millennium Centre’s managers to give ESG another try.
At the final meeting with ESG’s efficiency consultant, Woodard said he was told the building control system used by the center did not produce enough information to build an adequate usage profile, and a $20,000 software and server upgrade was needed.
“Based on our discussion with the Finance Committee last week, our goal at this point is to move ahead with Johnson Controls with the efficiency program,” he said. “Their expertise can offer us a lot of the same recommendations ESG was offering without that third-party involvement.”
The convention center is still cooled by chilled water supplied by ESG, but there’s no meter installed to assure the PBA is using the service it’s paying for.
“There’s a pit out back that they first indicated a meter was there,” Woodard said. “We inspected with them, and they acknowledged that there was not a meter.”
ESG is now charging the center for the chilled water using a mathematical formula that employs the temperature of the water as it enters and leaves the cooling system.
The contract with the energy company calls for a meter to be installed, but neither the PBA nor ESG can produce a signed copy, making the contract virtually useless.
A new chiller tower at the site to produce cooled water would cost upward of $300,000, and it would likely still be more expensive to cool the water than what ESG charges, Woodard said.
“The problem is, there’s no way to determine the accuracy of what we’re being charged for,” he said.
“You’re at their mercy,” PBA member Hank Carr remarked. “What’s crazy about this is, when the contract’s up, you’re going to have to install your own tower.”
With the board’s attorney advising not much could be done without proof of a viable contract, the board moved on without resolution to the issue.
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