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Monitor 'Cool Schools'.

Byline: The Register-Guard

In his campaign for governor last year, John Kitzhaber proposed what sounded like a perpetual-motion machine: The state would sell bonds to finance energy efficiency projects in public schools, and the savings from reduced fuel and electricity costs would pay off the debt. School buildings would be upgraded, energy consumption would decline, the retrofit projects would create jobs, and the whole program would pay for itself. Now Oregonians will have a chance to see how well the idea works in practice.

The Oregon Legislature has approved House Bill 2960, the "Cool Schools" bill. It's a smaller program than Kitzhaber proposed, providing low- or zero-interest loans to finance energy efficiency in about 30 schools. The loans will be backed not by new state-issued bonds, but by money from a variety of existing programs.

The "Cool Schools" program, if it is objectively monitored, should be able to provide answers to questions that arose during Kitzhaber's campaign: If school retrofits can pay for themselves, why haven't they already been done? How many jobs will actually be created, how long will they last, and what will they pay? If energy efficiency projects in schools pencil out as promised, why not extend the program to other public buildings ranging from libraries to jails?

Many school districts have already invested in improved boilers, better lighting, tighter windows and more fuel-efficient bus fleets. The "Cool Schools" program's evaluation should include an effort to determine whether any of the projects would have been completed without state help.

The program also needs to measure how long it takes for energy savings to match the initial investment, whether improvements in education result from more comfortable or better-lit buildings, and whether the projects had a meaningful effect on employment. If the evaluations are favorable, Kitzhaber's concept could be expanded to include any public building or vehicle fleet where investments in energy efficiency make both environmental and economic sense.
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Title Annotation:Editorials and Letters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 23, 2011
Previous Article:Uncertainty rules as the end of bond purchases approaches.

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