LSU enters 30-year ‘utilities modernization initiative’

By: - February 24, 2021 9:30 am

LSU Clock Tower (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

LSU will enter a decades-long utilities modernization initiative with Enwave Energy and LA Energy Partners to modernize the campus’ energy systems that heat, cool and power the university.

“What both of these companies bring is extensive higher education experience, a firm commitment to diverse suppliers and decades-long service,” Donna Torres, LSU’s chief financial officer, said during the LSU Board of Supervisors meeting. Both companies have worked on energy projects for LSU since 1998.

LA Energy Partners is a joint venture between Bernhard LLC and Johnson Controls. Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed owner Jim Bernhard — a supporter of the governor and donor to the state Democratic Party — to the LSU Board of Supervisors last summer, but Bernhard declined the position shortly before the LSU board voted to start negotiating with his companies over the energy contract, according to reporting done by The Advocate.

Instead of publicly bidding the deal and allowing any energy company to make an offer, LSU board members negotiated a deal directly with Enwave Energy and LA Energy Partners, according to The Advocate.

The utilities modernization initiative “will impact 493 buildings and 15,057,366 square feet of classroom, labs and administrative space,” Ernie Ballard, a spokesperson for LSU, said in a press release. “The savings generated by the utilities modernization initiative will be used to offset deferred maintenance and provide additional resources for university strategic initiatives.”

James Williams, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, praised the administration for creating an energy deal that reduced costs for the university while opening up opportunities to modernize the campus’ energy instrafrusture.

“We board members come along and we see what’s been presented and we’re glad that we have a deal,” Williams said to the administration. “But it’s those of you who’ve been in the trenches… I just want to want to thank all of y’all for what you’ve done.”

The board estimated the deal would save the university $90 million over the next 30 years. The university currently pays $30 million a year on utilities costs and operations, but will now pay Enwave Energy $27 million per year to handle “everything — including commodities costs (natural gas, electricity, water), debt, and construction,” Ballard said to the Illuminator.

“This project will have no impact on tuition and fees,” Ballard said. “It is designed to provide for optimization within the current budget for utilities and maintenance.”

Torres said LA Energy Partners will provide LSU with “unparalleled Louisiana district energy experience, sustainable energy efficiency design and construction and vast local design and construction resources.”

The company has completed over 400 projects for LSU since 1908 and “operates and maintains numerous energy plants in Louisiana, including the Shaw Center energy plant in downtown Baton Rouge,” according to the press release.

Bernhard’s company would have had difficulty doing business with LSU had he accepted the governor’s appointment to the Board of Supervisors.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.