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News / Northwest

Bill would allow Washington schools to use private financing for energy-saving projects

By Matthew Zylstra, The Chronicle
Published: March 14, 2023, 2:33pm

CENTRALIA — House Bill 1777 was passed unanimously by the state House last Wednesday. The bill, which deals with financing for school capital projects, was cosponsored by state Rep. Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet, of the 19th Legislative District.

“This bill allows energy saving projects to be funded by private entities when the building owner does not have the capital, up front to fund the project,” McEntire told The Chronicle. “This is important to me because some schools cannot generate funds to get more energy efficient lights, HVAC, or windows.”

According to McEntire, the program HB 1777 would create could be used to fund projects schools need. Their energy savings would be used to pay the cost overtime.

“I think it is a winner and I was happy to vote on it today,” McEntire said after the bill’s passage.

Joel Hanson, a senior account executive who works in business development, is an advocate for the bill. According to Hanson, the program created by HB 1777 would be run by the state Department of Enterprise Services. He said the program allows localities to contract with companies to do energy retrofitting on school buildings.

Hanson said the effort for HB 1777 started in November 2022 when he was working with a large school district to develop an LED lighting retrofit project for one of its schools.

“We toured the buildings with a lighting engineer and talked about how much energy we thought would be saved with modern energy efficient lighting,” Hanson said. “At the end of the tour, the school district’s sustainability manager turned to me and said, ‘This is great, what about my other 69 buildings?’”

Hanson said the manager told him his budget was zero, after which Hanson explained Ameresco, the company he was working on behalf of, could replace all the light fixtures and lighting controls in the whole district with the business’ money and the business would own and maintain the lighting. The district would then pay the company on a service contract to provide lighting services. At the end of the contract, the lighting would be owned by the district.

According to Hanson, Ameresco had done similar deals with private customers but he found it wasn’t legal for public agencies in Washington state.

Hanson said he spoke with state Rep. Beth Doglio shortly before Christmas about the issue. Doglio then proposed they write a bill.

The bill would permit public-private partnerships so when a school district needs capital improvements a company can come in and carry the risk instead of the government.

Hanson mentioned Centralia as an example of a municipality that could complete capital projects without the need for bond funding under the proposal. He said that Centralia is an example of a place that struggles to meet the needs of students. Hanson added the bill would provide localities such as Centralia with a new pathway to complete needed projects.

“I think this is a story of how government can work,” Hanson said.

Hanson pointed to the bill’s supporters as evidence elected officials can work together to make positive changes. He said the bill’s primary sponsor, Doglio, is a progressive Democrat while the bill is also supported by state representatives like McEntire and Jim Walsh, who he described as conservative Republicans.

“When there’s a good policy that really works, you can break through the partisan gridlock,” Hanson said.

HB 1777 is now before the state Senate for consideration.

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