Webinar: Charter School Capital Energy Services Overview

In this short webinar, we wanted to share information about the new solutions we have available to the charter school community. We were honored to have this webinar presented by Charlie Burrows, Head of New Products at Charter School Capital and David Smart, President and COO- Energy Reduction at BioStar Renewables.

Watch this Product & Resources Overview to learn about our new Energy solution and how efficient buildings make for better learning environments. Watch the video or read the complete transcript below.

Charlie Burrows: Let’s get started. Again, thank you for joining us. I am Charlie Burrows. I am part of the new products group here at Charter School Capital. I’ve been here for almost two years and our group has developed three products: enrollment marketing, Medicaid billing, and Charter School Energy, which is the one that we’re going to talk about today. The one that I think’s probably got the most reach and probably the broadest interest from our schools’ perspective. I’m happy to be joined by David Smart, who… I’ll let David introduce himself, but David is our partner. So we are Charter School Energy powered by BioStar Renewables. So with that David, you want to give a little background on you?

David Smart: Sure. Thank you, Charlie, and thanks everyone for joining. We are really excited to officially have Charter School Capital as our partner. At BioStar Renewables, we have had successful projects with 25 or maybe a few more charter schools, but one of the stumbling blocks we’ve run into is placing financing for those types of schools. And Charter School Capital really helps solve that problem. So, we have a passion for investing in K through 12 education and we’re really, really excited to tell everyone about our program.

Burrows: Terrific. Thank you. And by the way, just so people understand our relationship, when we started to design Charter School Energy, we felt it was really important that we find a construction partner, because that’s not our forte. We understand charter schools, we understand financing, as you mentioned. But we don’t really understand the construction component. And so we did a nationwide search looking for a partner that was flexible, had a terrific reputation, had a national footprint, had experience in the education space. We started this relationship a little over a year and a half ago, and it’s worked out exactly the way I had hoped so we’re thrilled to have BioStar as our partner.

A little bit about Charter School Capital. Our mission … we are completely dedicated to helping charter schools fulfill their mission. So we look for ways to either provide working capital, facilities financing, products that would generate revenue or save costs. That’s our mission. The number one metric for understanding how well we’ve done with that mission is the fact that we, over the last ten years, have served one million children or students in the charter school system. That’s a bigger metric to us than the fact that we’ve worked with 600 charter schools, that we’re pushing $2 billion in working capital financing, or that we’ve spent $400 million on supporting a portfolio of charter school real estate across the country. We’re headquartered in Portland with 60 employees and we think we’ve got a stellar track record with schools and investors.

With that, I’ll turn it over to David to talk a little bit about BioStar Renewables.

Smart: Thank you, Charlie. At BioStar Renewables, our roots are in the renewable energy business. We started as a private equity firm, investing in renewable energy projects, and since then have grown into an energy services company, which is more focused on working with end users to make their buildings and portfolios of properties more efficient.

So, any time that we’re looking at school for a renewable energy solution, we always want to make sure the building is as efficient as possible before we start to add renewable energy components. So as a company, we have about 15 megawatts of solar under management and that ranges all the way from Hawaii to New Jersey. And actually includes 32 school sites. We do the turnkey engineering procurement and construction of those projects as well as place financing and tax equity dollars.

And then from an energy efficiency and energy surfaces standpoint, we’ve worked in more than 300 buildings across the country and specific to charter schools, we have designed and procured lighting packages for a couple dozen of those schools across the country.

And then finally, our estimators are WELL certified, which we’re going to talk a little bit about today. And they are also AGI 32 certified lighting designers. So we’re really able to not only procure the product but design the product and place the product in a classroom or hallway environment to meet the light levels that are necessary. Solar and lighting and mechanical are typically the three components of our business, which we’ll talk a little bit more about here in a few minutes.

Burrows: Terrific. Thank you. So our agenda today, now that we’ve covered introductions and background, is to talk about program benefits, the nine foundations of a healthy school, healthy building solutions, services included in our program, and energy savings example.

So from our perspective, we think the benefits to Charter School Energy are that we can enhance the learning environment, reduce the environmental impact, create learning opportunities, and address deferred maintenance issues. So we think the equation looks like this: healthy buildings equals student health, which equals student thinking, followed by student attendance, which is super important. And even more important is student performance. Lest you think this is something that we sort of just put together in our heads, it turns out that our good, smart friends at Harvard came out with a study in 2019, so it’s very fresh.

Schools for Health, Foundations for Student Success: How school buildings influence student health, thinking, and performance. So it’s air quality, moisture management, dust and pests, water quality, safety and security, noise, lighting and views, thermal health, and ventilation. David?

Smart: Thank you, Charlie. I want to just look at this chart for a couple of minutes and sort of look at the ways that the different things that we do or solutions we provide impact the school and impact the learning environment. So some typical solutions for us would be to upgrade plumbing systems, make water fixtures more efficient, upgrades to HVAC and mechanical systems. We’re finding that a lot of schools have really outdated HVAC systems, and that is a large capital that they need to address in the near future if not immediately. And then placing controls on those HVAC and mechanical systems, so giving them a brain. Making them smarter so they can understand the patterns of the building and being sure that the building’s temperature is not only desirable but also that when it’s not occupied, the set points can be set back and you can save energy that way.

LED lighting is almost always a foundation of our projects. If our clients haven’t installed LED lighting yet, that’s a low-cost high-savings solution. Generally, we can take the savings from the LED lighting and actually use those savings to pay for other capital expenses. And I’ll circle back to that and address that a little bit in detail later. And then finally, we love solar. Solar is not feasible in every market yet, but there are several markets around the country where solar projects are really starting to make sense. And that one actually is really nice in these charter school projects from the standpoint of we’re seeing that a lot of traditional schools and charter schools are interested in developing a curriculum around renewable energy and we’d like to think we can help develop that curriculum by making it a reality at the school.

And then of course any structural enhancements: roofs, windows, foundation issues. We want to make sure we’re addressing those although we don’t typically have energy savings associated with them. They are just as important to making sure that you have a functioning school.

Burrows: And interestingly enough David, the first project that we did together was actually replacing the roof on a building that we own. So while everybody though immediately it was going to be lighting, the first one was actually a roof. So it gives, I think, some perspective on the broad array of challenges that charter schools can be faced with, either deferred maintenance and repair or doing things that have return on investment and improving the environment.

Smart:And capital improvements typically have a great ROI. However, in that case, as Charlie knows, there were several classrooms which were leaking during heavy rains and they were having to spend a lot of money on bringing in folks to patch the roof and fix the ceiling tiles. Although it wasn’t energy savings, there certainly was an ROI to getting that roof into good shape.

Burrows: Terrific. You know, I’d like to pause the presentation at this point and open up a poll. It would be really good for us to have a sense of our attendees today in terms of what they’re interested in or learning more about. That will give us some perspective and we can sort of guide the conversation. So we’re going to pause things for one or two minutes and if folks would like to respond to the poll, that would be super helpful to us.

(please see video above at the 12:00 minute mark for poll questions)

Great. Thanks for everyone’s input. David, you can’t see it. I can. But it looks like there’s sort of a tie between solar and LED, but HVAC was also touched on as well as roof replacement. So if that gives you any guidance about where you want to take the conversation going forward in the next slide, that’s terrific. Thanks everybody for your input.

Smart:Thank you for voting, everyone. That’s great. If we could go to the next slide?

Burrows: Yes.

Smart: So the tie between LED and solar is interesting, because one of the things that we are always evaluating is, you know, we don’t want to oversize a solar array. Typically, LED lighting projects have two to four year paybacks. Solar project maybe have ten year paybacks. But when we look at them together, sometimes we see as low as a five year payback on both as a combined efficiency measure. And they both play really nicely together because if we can reduce the building’s consumption through the LED lighting, then we can presumably build less solar and have a more affordable project. So glad to hear that’s on your minds. Those are two of our core competencies and we would love to talk to you about your specific situation after the call.

Some of the services we offer… Our program really generally starts with a professional investment-grade audit. So we want to come into your building, understand your challenges, what things are working, what things aren’t working, and then start to develop a plan and a list of action items and opportunities to upgrade your building. So our proposal and investment-grade audit will include energy and financial savings summaries. It will of course include cost and generally, it will include financing options if that’s needed. And the nice thing, the goal of our projects, is to create a cash flow positive project. The goal is to come back little to no upfront capital investment with a project that creates net savings on the term of the financing. So that is generally possible, although sometimes we are finding when there’s a large roof replacement or a total HVAC and mechanical overhaul, those larger cap-ex items do sometimes make that difficult. But we’re still able to place financing and allow you to with little upfront investment make these necessary upgrades to your building.

So we handle all utility rebates. We will go and look for state incentives and federal incentives, if applicable. And then as I mentioned, lease and financing options. If we can get… In order to get started, we almost always want to start with 12 months of utility bills. We want to look at what is your consumption pattern and then also really dive into what’s your utility rate. And just knowing your utility rate will allow us to determine what may or may not be feasible in your building.

And then of course any information you can provide around building drawings, floor plans, square footage, is always helpful. The more you can arm us with information about your building, then the better, the more detailed of a look we can get into as possible from a distance before we even do that site evaluation. Charlie, was there anything I missed there you wanted to touch on?

Burrows: No. I think that the rebate management thing is a really big deal. You touched on it, but your ability to deal with at the city level, at the county level, at the utility level, at the state level and the federal level, your ability to do that really makes a big deal in a lot of these projects, so–

Smart: Yeah. Every utility has incentives available for projects like these and our estimators are experts in navigating those utility programs. So those are really nice programs that help offset the cost of especially capital-intensive projects.

Burrows: Terrific. We’ll move on to the next slide.

Smart: Great. This is a pretty straightforward slide. The graph there sort of speaks for itself. This is looking at a lighting project in sort of a typical deal economic. So if your energy costs are $16000 and we put you on a five-year lighting lease agreement, that totals $11000… Your monthly payments equaling $12000, roughly, a year. But your energy and maintenance savings is $12.3 or almost $13000. So you’ve got about $1000 in cash flow positive saving right off the bat. And then of course once the lease falls off, you can see the economics really get good and you continue with saving for the remainder of the project.

What we’re doing with these project plans, in years six through ten, can we take that additional savings and use that to pay for other important upgrades in the project. So if we look at a 10 year project with your school and we find that the LED lighting has a three or a four year payback, what can we do with the remaining five or six years of savings to make important upgrades in your school? So that’s where we see… You know, we’re able to lump in roof replacements or large mechanical projects that are really, really capital intensive, but when we pair them with these energy savings measures, we’re able to wrap that all into one project and financing for your school. So we really, while lighting and mechanical is always kind of the first two things we look at, we really are interested in learning other things, other wants/needs for your school.

I’ll give you an example. We’re currently working with a school in Massachusetts who is really interested in utilizing an acre of their land that is unusable. It’s down by a river. They’re interested in creating an outdoor learning center and outdoor theater. So we’re looking to sort of take the savings generated from their project and reinvest it into their school in the form of an outdoor learning environment. We think it’s really cool.

Burrows: Absolutely. Thank you, David. I think that brings us to the end. We’re certainly very interested in taking any questions that you have, either now during the webinar or on the next slide you’ve got our contact information. We’d love to hear from you. Any questions you’ve got, we’d be very happy to be very responsive. So we have a couple of questions. Number one: How would I know what the total available incentives might be for an energy project? Do you check with the city, county, utility, state, and federal level? David do you want to take that?

Smart:Yeah, absolutely. So state to state, things are going to vary as far as state credits go. They’re not very many state credits out there for energy efficiency, although they do exist. There are some state credits out there for solar projects. Then there is a federal solar tax credit, which with the help of Charter School Capital, we’re able to actually monetize with a third party and then pass that savings back to the school to make the economics work. And then as far as rebates go, like I mentioned earlier, almost every utility in the country has some form of rebate program. Generally, utilities are fairly responsive if you’re interested in exploring those or need their website, it’s typically pretty easy to find. But as a part of our initial evaluation process, we will look through utility rebates at the local level, any state rebates or credits, and then of course any federal credits that might be associated with the project, which we can monetize and pass through to the school.

Burrows: Terrific. The second question I get frequently, and that is: How long does a lighting upgrade project implementation take? And is it possible to do that implementation in non-school hours?

Smart: Yeah. I’d be happy to take that one, Charlie. I think from the time that we go and visit a school, and then from there we generally need a week or two to create a proposal. And then from the acceptance of the proposal, we’ll usually say the installation should be complete in four to six weeks. Our lighting installation crews are perfectly used to working around business hours, whether that be in a commercial setting or of course a school. So whether that be night work or early evening into early night, we’re very used to working around school hours. And then of course, in the school break times, that’s a really nice opportunity or over spring break and breaks are a nice opportunity to get work like this done.

Burrows: Fantastic. Thank you. Any other questions? David, anything you want to add before we sign off?

Smart:I don’t think so. Just that if any of what we said is resonating with you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to either Charlie or myself. We’re eager to learn about your school and learn about what’s working and what’s not working and see if we can’t lend a helping hand. So thank you so much everyone for joining today and we look forward to subsequent conversations.

Burrows: Yeah. Thanks, David. And I want to echo what you just said. There’s no obligation for calling us or contacting us and saying, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this or that. What should I know?” We’re here to help. If we do something together, that’s a bonus. So thank you all for joining us. Appreciate it. Would love to hear from you. Have a great day.

Smart:Thanks, everyone.

Burrows: Thanks, David.

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Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!

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