Archive for Thursday, November 3, 2011

Douglas County investing in long-term sustainability

November 3, 2011


Upgrades to heating and air-conditioning systems at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center are on pace to save county taxpayers more than $50,000 this year.

And more such energy-saving projects could be on the way in the near future, as department leaders tap into a new fund designed to encourage investments in energy-efficient equipment, fixtures and other infrastructure.

The savings then would be channeled back into the fund to continue financing projects that cost more money up front but promise significant savings in the future.

“It’s good for everybody,” said Mike Gaughan, a county commissioner whose ideas led to creation of the Sustainability and Energy-Savings Reimbursement Fund. “It saves the county money in the long term, and it saves energy. This should allow our staff to think big in how to do that.”

The fund won unanimous reaffirmation Wednesday from commissioners, who had approved it last year as part of their budget for 2011.

Specifically, the fund has $300,000 available for efficiency-oriented projects suggested by leaders of county departments. Such investments could take two forms:

• Replacing equipment with energy-efficient models, using the fund to cover the additional cost of going with high-efficiency instead of conventional units.

• Implementing “showcase” projects, ones that wouldn’t involve replacing an existing system, or might otherwise show the county’s commitment to efficiency.

The county, for example, recently bought a new energy-efficient boiler, for $50,000, to serve the Douglas County Courthouse. Going with the energy-efficient model cost an extra $10,000, but that model figures to save the county another $7,500 a year — enough to pay for itself in the first 1.3 years of a 25-years-or-more lifespan.

Solar panels at the Douglas County Jail help heat water used inside for laundry, washing dishes and in sinks. Earlier this year Craig Weinaug, county administrator, used a few thousand dollars from the fund to run a line from solar panels at the county’s Juvenile Detention Center — panels that previously had been used to heat water for the laundry center — to the kitchen as well.

More money? Yes. But the investment spurs more savings.

“I think it’s a real win-win,” said Eileen Horn, the county’s sustainability coordinator.

Commissioners welcomed the program and said they looked forward to seeing more projects implemented. But Jim Flory, commission chairman, cautioned that the $300,000 initially available for such uses — and expectations for replenishing the fund in future years — could shrink, depending on budget pressures.

“I think this is a good idea,” Flory said, who noted that his support came with a caveat. “My asterisk is that you understand ... that what’s coming down the road may not be pleasant and may interrupt some of the features of this, just by means of necessity.”

In other action, commissioners:

• Extended a burn ban for another week, but Flory noted that he could lift the ban if wet conditions persisted.

• Endorsed plans for two county-owned properties — two acres behind the United Way center, 2518 Ridge Court, and four acres near the jail — to be available for licensed use by individuals, organizations or even commercial growers interested in using such public property for growing vegetables, herbs and other foods through a new “Common Ground” program.

• Agreed to buy property, for $572,720, from the owners of Hillcrest Wrecker and Garage, and then lease the property back to the owners for $2,600 a month for the next five years.


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