Ohio State has proposed a plan to receive its largest investment in the university’s history by selling its energy to the highest bidder.
In accepting the unprecedented proposal, OSU will move forward in a public-private partnership with ENGIE, a French global energy producer and operator, who would control the energy used on campus for the next 50 years.
The agreement, which is the first of its stature, includes the largest upfront payment — to the tune of $1.015 billion — between an American university and a global energy partner, OSU officials said.
The final bidders for privatization were evaluated on the basis of a set of criteria which included academic collaboration, technical aspects, human resources and financing. The decision to partner with ENGIE-Axium was made after it proposed a plan that included its academic collaboration proposal while also accelerating in a technical category, university officials said.
ENGIE-Axium also offered the largest upfront payment compared to other bidders.
This continues the trend of OSU privatizing its resources, which began with its CampusParc deal in 2012. The 50-year, $483 million deal was also the largest of its kind.
The University of Oklahoma is the only other public university who has an outside company run the operation of its utilities, albeit for a fraction of the price. In 2010, Oklahoma leased the control of its utilities for 50 years, worth $118 million.
ENGIE formed a partnership with Axium, an investment management firm that specializes in generating long-term returns through buy-and-hold investments. Axium was brought on to take the reigns of the business model and contractual details proposed to OSU during the bidding process.
The proposal will be voted on during a Board of Trustees meeting on April 7. If approved, the university will agree to a 50-year lease and receive the $1.015 billion upfront payment immediately.
As part of the payment, ENGIE-Axium has agreed to a $150 million commitment investing in OSU academics in areas requested by students and faculty during the bidding process.
These areas include: student financial aid, compensatory enhancements for faculty and staff and money to be distributed to classrooms, research labs and performance and arts spaces. However, the details of how much money will be devoted to each area was not disclosed.
The university will pay ENGIE-Axium a fixed fee of $45 million each year, with a 1.5 percent increase to cover inflation; an operating fee starting around $9.2 million to cover the cost of maintenance; and a variable fee tied to unknown capital investments.
OSU has been looking to privatize its energy since the project was announced in 2014. Last month, OSU had narrowed its choices down to three proposals, all with foreign ties.
If approved by the Board of Trustees, the energy company could begin working on campus by August, OSU officials said.
The new deal could impact the jobs of up to 52 current utility system employees working for OSU.
ENGIE-Axium will offer direct employment to all eligible current OSU utility workers, but for those who would instead prefer to remain university employees, OSU will offer them similar jobs at the same pay.
They will also hire on 15 new full-time employees to the utility system staff.
ENGIE-Axium plans to bring with it a $50 million, 60,000 square foot energy advancement and research center, which would be their first center in America. However, the location on campus is not known.
OSU officials said the construction of the center would fall under the Framework 2.0 plans approved by the Board of Trustees in January.
The research center would potentially be home to various faculty members, facility workers, researchers and perhaps students in internship-like positions, said OSU officials.
“In total these enhancements would position Ohio State to take immediate and substantial steps forward in faculty excellence, quality of our physical spaces and as a hub of research energy and sustainability,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Bruce McPheron.
Energy and services provided by ENGIE to Columbus campus will also be given to branch campuses. The branch campuses could then be reviewed by the energy company and given new proposed energy plans to increase efficiency.
“This partnership would position us as an international leader in energy and sustainability and further strengthen Ohio State as a national flagship public research university,” said University President Michael Drake in a press release.
If ENGIE-Axium begins to invest in various capital projects, they will be responsible for funding the projects with a 50/50 split of debt and equity. Meaning, 50 percent of the investment could be borrowed from banks and bonds.
ENGIE-Axium would have three main tasks in the partnership focusing on operations, sustainability and supply.
ENGIE-Axium is responsible for operating heating and cooling systems while simultaneously meeting or exceeding the university’s current energy standards. Also, ENGIE-Axium must propose and provide capital funding for undefined and unknown energy conservation measures improving OSU’s sustainability.
Additionally, the consortium must continue to buy electricity, natural gas and other energy sources directly from providers, which could include AEP Energy and Direct Energy, the two providers currently used on campus.
Correction, 3/31: A previous version of this article misstated the criteria that led to ENGIE-Axium’s selection as OSU’s private partner.