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The Scoop - Watch out for slick salesmen

A group of WCHS juniors came to the Standard office Thursday morning for a tour of the newspaper. As I was showing them around, I began relaying some unique stories from my years in the news business.

"One thing I've learned is when a person walks into the newspaper office with a large vegetable, the best thing to do is take their picture, put it in the paper, and move on. Don't try to argue with them."

One student asked in amazement, "Do people really come to the newspaper with their vegetables?"

The answer is yes, probably three or four times a year. And if you try to argue with them about a large vegetable not being newsworthy, they get upset, you get upset, and there's no reason for any of it. Take their picture and make them happy.

I mention this lesson learned because Warren County Commissioners are about to vote on a $9.2 million energy savings project for our school system. I am not an energy advisor, but I have learned from experience and I can say our last two attempts to chase energy savings at the expense of huge up-front costs have failed.

If you recall, the city of McMinnville tried to capture savings more than a decade ago by replacing the water meters for all city residents. I remember listening to the presentation back when City Hall was located at the Blue Building.

A smooth-talking salesman told city officials about all the extra revenue they would gain with these new water meters because they more accurately measure the amount of water residents use. 

Unfortunately, the city paid over $1 million for these water meters and never saw any increase in revenue.

The city went down a similar road when it installed a geothermal heating and cooling system at McMinnville Civic Center. The cost was eye-popping at $1.5 million, but don't worry, city officials were told. Over its 20-year lifespan, the city would enjoy tremendous savings.

That project was probably 10 years ago, to the best of my memory, and I've yet to hear of any energy savings. I heard very quietly from some city officials about a year later that the system hadn't saved a penny.

That brings us to a massive $9.2 million "energy-saving" project under consideration for our school system. The biggest thing that jumps out about this is its unbelievable cost.

The second thing that raises alarm is the all-too-familiar sales pitch. This may seem like a whole lot of money, but don't worry. The energy-efficient products will pay for themselves over 20 years. We promise.

This may finally be the plan that lives up to its billing, the plan that showers Warren County taxpayers with huge financial savings. It may also be a bunch of hot air.

I may not always get it right the first time around, but I'd like to think I can learn from my mistakes. I no longer argue with people holding huge vegetables at the newspaper office and I no longer believe all the promises of salesmen touting huge energy savings.

Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.