City plans retrofits and upgrades to reduce energy costs

Published on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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A little goes a long way when it comes to saving energy. But for a city the size of Blaine, it takes a bit more than just switching to LED lightbulbs to effect real change.

To discover how the city can cut costs and be greener and more energy-efficient in the coming years, Blaine has partnered with Johnson Controls, a company that specializes in energy optimization. The firm analyzed the city’s energy usages and determined improvements that they believe will lower energy usage citywide.

“We want to make sure we’re using just the energy that’s needed,” Ravyn Whitewolf, public works director said. “We hope to reduce our power consumption as a city and bring us back down to a level we can sustain.”

In a presentation to city council on November 25, Matt Emlen of Johnson Controls explained the methods that his company had found for the city to reduce its energy expenses through their program, including replacing aging equipment and establishing building control systems that will better regulate heating and air condition usage. Johnson Controls has worked with the city of Bellingham on a similar, larger-scale energy conservation project in 2011.

The upgrades and retrofits will be the responsibility of Johnson Controls. The costs of the upgrades and retrofits will be paid for by the city, which expects to see a payback through the projected savings in coming years. 

Payment to Johnson Controls is conditional on the city reaching the energy savings that the firm has projected for each project. “If they say new streetlights will pay for themselves in five years, and after one year it looks like it won’t happen, then they are responsible for that cost,” Whitewolf said. 

“Once the debt is paid off, you’re ahead of the game in achieving savings,” Emlen told council members, adding, “If we fail, we as the service provider will owe you, and have to write you a check for the shortfall.”

Whitewolf hopes to use energy conservation bonds and acquire a Department of Commerce energy grant to help finance the improvements upfront.

“When I heard that there was a Department of Commerce [energy] grant that had money set aside for small cities, I saw it as a great opportunity,” she said. 

The energy efficiency grant program awards small cities up to $500,000 to make retrofits and improvements that will lower energy costs across the board. To be eligible for the project, an investment grade audit of the city’s facilities was required.

“The investment grade audit is essentially a feasibility study,” Whitewolf said. “Johnson Controls looked at our buildings, our current energy use, the age of our equipment to see if there were any potential energy savings. The answer was yes, so we moved forward.” 

Now that the investment grade audit is complete, the city will finalize its energy services proposal and apply for the grant. Once they learn about the results of the grant application, they can move forward with establishing a funding plan to finance the project.

“I’m pretty passionate about recycling and green energy, and I’m excited about making Blaine more green and saving Blaine taxpayers a lot of money at the same time,” Whitewolf said.