DOBSON — It just goes to show that little changes can make a big difference.
A recent project to make the county’s facilities more energy efficient are paying dividends for both the county and the environment, officials told the board of commissioners this week.
During Monday’s meeting, Chuck James, energy engineer with energy management company Johnson Controls, told the board that after only one year in full operation the county had saved more than $100,000 in energy costs as a result of upgrades to equipment.
The company, which conducts energy audits for municipalities to determine whether upgrades could save them money, offered the service to the county.
According to county Facilities Manager Don Mitchell, the project began in 2009 when representatives of Johnson Controls contacted the county.
That first meeting led to an intense audit of the county’s buildings and utility infrastructure, which in turn yielded a three-inch book of planned improvements, which were ultimately put in place.
The improvements won’t be costing the the county a penny, since the county is on track to save more than enough to cover the $1 million, 15-year contract.
“Johnson Controls guarantees that if we make certain changes we’ll save enough in energy costs to pay for the new equipment. We’re not having to take money out of the general fund to pay for the equipment because the savings will pay for it and they guarantee it. If we come up short, they write the county a check to pay for the difference,” said Mitchell.
With such a guarantee, the county saw the initiative as a win-win.
“The reason we began looking into it in the first place was two-fold,” Mitchell said. “One was the chance to be able to upgrade some major equipment and have a guaranteed energy savings to pay for it, and the other reason was the environmental component.”
After conducting a thorough audit of the county facilities, the company recommended improvements like installing solar panels on the judicial center, changing lights to more energy-efficient bulbs and ballasts, the replacement of a chiller at the government center, a new gas boiler in the agricultural building and converting county buildings from fuel oil to natural gas.
As part of the agreement, the county paid for the equipment and Johnson Controls installed it. The contract stipulates the company will monitor and provide regular reports denoting the amount of money and energy the county is saving.
“Rather than take the money out of the budget, we chose to take out a loan to pay for the upgrades,” Mitchell said, noting the entire investment of $1,194,555 is already beginning to pay off in the form of energy savings.
During his first performance report report, James told the board that after one year in operation the upgrades had saved the county $127,745.
He said that savings in fuel totalled $25,482, the county had saved $88,636 in electric costs and another $13,627 in operational costs.
“I found it great that the county managed to save that much on fuel during this year’s rough, weird winter,” James told the board.
In addition, James said that as a result of the upgrades, the county reduced its emissions by 62.9 tons between Feb. 1, 2013 and Jan. 31, 2014.
James said the upgrades only recently went fully online.
“Fortunately, when you start reducing your use of fuel and consumption of electricity, you begin seeing a reduction in pollutants,” he said. “We’re now at 100 percent operation as of two weeks ago, and with what we’re seeing right now I can’t wait to see the results next year.”
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.