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County taking multifaceted approach to reduce energy use

MONDAY, MAY 21, 2012

Spokane County has turned up the heat on efforts to save energy across its multiple buildings and shops.

Officials are combining grants and incentives to create building blocks for reducing energy use by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Last week, county commissioners reaffirmed their support of the multiple efforts.

The county is joining a national program through the U.S. Department of Energy to reach the goal, said Jennifer Stapleton, grants administrator.

It comes on top of a history of energy-saving projects by the county since the late 1980s.

In the past 10 years alone, the county has reduced its energy use by 20 percent, said Ron Oscarson, director of facilities.

The county has worked with Avista Utilities to achieve savings and has taken advantage of grants over the years.

Among the improvements are installation of high-efficiency motors, low-energy lighting and switches that turn off lights when rooms are not occupied.

Utility meters were consolidated to reduce the cost of billing.

Two years ago, the county obtained a $700,000 federal economic stimulus grant to increase efficiency even more.

Part of the money was used to connect the jail to the county’s central steam plant, which is powered by natural gas. That change is saving $27,000 a year.

Utility manager software was purchased with the grant money to help analyze energy use.

“We chose to use leveraged dollars to do a lot of this work ourselves and achieve significant savings,” Stapleton said.

Now, the county is hiring two energy services companies to undertake detailed analyses of natural gas, electrical and water use.

Earlier this month, the commissioners approved consultant contracts with McKinstry, which has offices in Spokane, and Ameresco Quantum, of Renton.

McKinstry will examine options for improving energy use at the Spokane Regional Health Building, which currently gets steam from an underground pipe extending more than four blocks from the central plant.

In the winter, snow above the pipeline melts. Infrared measuring shows excessive heat loss, officials said.

“We know there is energy loss. We don’t know the level,” Oscarson said.

The county likely would convert the health building to a separate boiler that employs technology developed over the past decade.

Condensing boilers are part of the emerging energy services sector that the stimulus grant is intended to support.

In the future, the county could convert other buildings to the high-efficiency boilers.

To finance improvements, the county may qualify for state Department of Commerce energy grants, which the Legislature approved as a way to create jobs, Stapleton said.

The audits being sought from the two consulting firms will provide the underpinning for the grant applications, Stapleton said.

By putting together grants and Avista incentives, the county may be able to finance major projects at little cost to local taxpayers.

Ameresco Quantum will study energy and other resource uses at the historic Courthouse, Courthouse Annex, County Jail, Public Safety Building and community services building.

County officials are planning to replace lighting in the Public Works Building with more energy-efficient lamps, saving $33,000 a year.

On-demand hot water systems may be installed in separate buildings so the steam plant can be idled during summer months.

Stapleton said savings from the energy projects will possibly be earmarked for future investments in energy improvements.

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