Archive for Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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

March 22, 2011


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.


workinghard 7 years, 3 months ago

I did that and guess what? My electric bill was actually higher. When you cut back and their profits drop, they raise the rates. Now they have to get government approval for those rate hikes and the government keeps giving them to them. The Government officials are hypocrites and punish the consumer for doing what they tell them they need to be doing.

labmonkey 7 years, 3 months ago

Blame the environmentalists and government regulators, not the energy companies for the rate hikes. Every time the EPA comes down with a new regulation, power plants must add expensive additions to their AQCS systems or be forced to shut down. These additions can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, hence the rate increase requests.

workinghard 7 years, 3 months ago

We've seen the salaries and bonuses of the top executives and their profits. Your theory just means they were getting too much to begin with.

labmonkey 7 years, 3 months ago

Really? What the CEOs of KCPL and Westar make are a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of retrofitting a new AQCS system to an existing power plant every time the EPA hands down new regulations. Not only do these upgrades cost money, they require extensive electricity usage themselves, making for less net megawatts produced per unit and less electricity being put on the grid.

Without profit, these companies would not exist to give you relatively cheap electricity. If the government ran it, your tax bill (or that of people who actually have jobs) would go up dramatically.

workinghard 7 years, 3 months ago

Every business owner faces the same problem. Maintenance and upkeep are a part of business. Every time I have to buy new supplies or equipment or the city changes the rules and increases my costs, I don't pass it along to customers. It should be already be figured in. And if I did, my customers would have the option to go somewhere else. We only have one choice for electricity, period. No comparison shopping, Westar has no competition.

labmonkey 7 years, 3 months ago

Maintenance and upkeep are one thing, but you probably do not have the government mandating that you add $400 million-$1 billion worth of upgrades or you shut down. Electric companies do not get to set the prices... the state tells them what they can charge.

pace 7 years, 3 months ago

good work Mr. Bell. Thank you. and thanks to the county commissioners for supporting the efforts. I hope you will keep us up to date, let us know about what worked and what didn't.

cutny 7 years, 3 months ago

Put some solar panels on that roof. Got all the sun in the world.

LadyJ 7 years, 3 months ago

Except those panels aren't free. The people that are hurt the most by rate increases probably don't have the money up front to buy those panels.

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