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County Board: Going green could save county thousands

Beltrami County could save thousands of dollars by going green -- depending upon how much commissioners want to invest up front.

The county could save $5,000 a year by "delamping" areas, or turning off lights in areas where there is natural lighting or where glare affects computer screens.

That move would cost nothing as it would be done by in-house labor, County Facilities Management Director Steve Shadrick told commissioners last week.

But the county could save $25,000 a year by replacing existing pneumatic controls in the jail with electronic controls, replacing main heating/cooling control valves and completing a recommissioning of control systems.

To do that, however, commissioners would need to invest up front $350,000, Shadrick said.

"A few of these have a significant cost investment," he told commissioners of the 18 energy-saving ideas he presented as a result of an audit by the Retired Engineers Technical Assistance Program.

"I know we can save some money and we can lower our costs," he said. "It depends on how much you want to invest."

Replacing the boilers in the jail would be a $250,000 investment that would return only $6,000 a year in savings, Shadrick said, but it would produce greater dependability, better efficiency, fewer repairs and lower maintenance costs.

"Because the jail houses inmates that can't be evacuated unless under extreme conditions, we need to ensure we can provide heat to the building at all times which gets more difficult as the equipment ages," Shadrick said in his report.

Replacing the jail air handling system and ductwork would cost $100,000 but would see an annual savings of $15,000, he said.

Board Chairman Jim Lucachick said the jail projects are worthy, but there is no money in the county budget for that kind of investment. But there is hope, however, that there may be federal economic stimulus funds for the projects, or other state or federal funds.

Some other projects include:

- Spending $10,123 to retrofit lighting with lower wattage bulbs to save $3,000 annually.

- Spending $4,730 to install occupancy sensors in certain areas to turn off lights when sensors indicate no one is near, saving $2,284 a year.

- Spending $37,165 to install variable frequency drives on motors in heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems for better energy efficiency, saving $21,010 a year.

- Save $1,257 a year by setting the temperature to 50 degrees in the winter in Highway Department garage storage space. Temperatures are set at 62 degrees now.

- Spend $25,000 to replace Highway Department rooftop air conditioner to save $200 a year and create greater energy efficiencies.

- Spend $2,400 to install vending misers on 12 pop machines in buildings to save $900 a year.

"Those that don't cost anything to do, go ahead and do them," Lucachick told Shadrick.

But commissioners need to set a budget target and prioritize those improvements that cost money, he added.

"My goal is to not get too out of line with costs," Shadrick said. "It must be feasible to do."

Energy efficiecy improvements made two years ago to the Community Services Center is now saving $60,000 a year, he said. "That $30,000 investment was a good investment."

The county has seen natural gas costs drop from $94,000 in 2006 to $33,000 in 2008.

"We'll try to do these projects versus cost-effectiveness as much as possible," Shadrick said.

If the county is seeing $100,000 in energy savings, then Lucachick told Shadrick to prepare a budget of $100,000 for energy savings investments -- either a single project or many smaller that add up to that amount.

County Administrator Tony Murphy added that many can be considered capital improvement projects and can be put in the county's Capital Improvement Program and bonding candidates.