Douglas County maintenance director plans to cut energy use 30 percent by 2015

By 2015, Douglas County maintenance director Bill Bell has a goal of reducing the county’s energy consumption by 30 percent.

His ideas of how to get there aren’t glamorous ones.

In the past six months, $183,000 has been spent to upgrade the county’s heating and cooling system at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Crews have digitized the variable air volume boxes stored in the duct work. They’ve finely tuned when the building’s air handlers turn on. And, they’ve installed software to track room temperatures online.

Bell predicts energy savings from those changes will repay the $183,000 expense in six years and reduce energy use by 20 percent. Already, they’ve seen a $5,000 reduction in the monthly energy bill.

“Between the courthouse and this building, I think that (30 percent reduction) is going to be possible,” Bell said.

Bell’s goal was one of 12 in the county’s recently created sustainability plan. The plan, which still has to be adopted by the Douglas County Commission, enlisted employees from departments throughout the county to help figure out ways to be more sustainable.

Most of the departments were already taking steps, said Eileen Horn, who was hired a year ago to be the sustainability coordinator for the city of Lawrence and Douglas County.

“A lot of time sustainability measures make good economic sense and operational sense,” Horn said.

Suggestions ranged from having reusable mugs instead of Styrofoam cups for drinking coffee to planting more native grasses along the county’s roadways.

“We looked top to bottom throughout the organization,” Horn said.

The work of putting together a plan had departments re-evaluating their practices, said Mike Perkins, operations division manager for public works.

“It was really helpful in asking, ‘Why is that the best way?’ Maybe you think that is the best way, but what about this?” Perkins said.

Along with planting native grasses, the public works department is looking at how to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles for a fleet that includes everything from sedans to earth-moving equipment.

So far, some of the most dramatic changes have occurred at the law enforcement center.

Bell’s department has digitized all of the variable air volume boxes inside the duct work of the building. With the digital information, Bell determined the offices along the outer walls of the building were losing heat and interior rooms kept a fairly steady temperature, even when heat was lowered during the weekends. They’ve adjusted the temperature accordingly.

The county also made upgrades so its air handlers didn’t turn on all at once and didn’t have to run constantly at 100 percent capacity. The changes allowed the county to lower its peak energy use and reduced the electric bill.

Horn said she hopes the steps the county takes through its sustainability plan will spark other businesses to look at ways to consume less and save more energy.

“Citizens are interested in this. We want to be seen as leading the way and setting a good example and that means pushing ourselves and setting goals that are meaningful and ambitious,” Horn said.