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Honeywell helps Bemidji use less juice: “Energy audit” aimed at upping efficiency in public buildings

BEMIDJI — The city’s buildings are about to get greener.

Starting last year, the city has been working with Energy Services Group — a division of Honeywell — to find the best ways to boost energy efficiency at its public buildings though an “energy audit.”

If the city decides to go forward with the recommended multi-million dollar fixes, Honeywell, the city and the state of Minnesota will all monitor how much money is saved on the city’s utility bill for 15 years. If, when added together, the improvements don’t save the amount promised, Honeywell is required to make up the difference. But city manager John Chattin said Friday it wasn’t likely there would be a discrepancy between Honeywell’s data and the city’s.

“Honeywell is being very conservative in their numbers because they can’t afford to be wrong,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that we will save at least as much as what they say we’ll save.”

The total cost of the projects the city supports doing is estimated at $2.4 million but that will mostly be covered by utility and operational savings of about $1.8 million total over 15 years, city finance director Ron Eischens said. The city will put forward $680,000 worth of projects that were already included in the city’s long-term improvement plan before Honeywell recommended them, he said. The audit cost $56,000, which the city will recoup in energy savings, Eischens said.

At a City Council meeting April 14, the city was presented with three options of how much efficiency it could go after via ESG. The most basic of these, Option One, involves essentially turning off or turning down the lights and other energy-using systems when not in use, but on a wide and sophisticated scale. ESG would upgrade the computerized utility controls on buildings for efficiency and make it possible to control things like the lights and heating remotely. Sensors would be installed to make sure the lights in a particular room are only on when someone’s actually inside. In addition to the buildings themselves, ESG would also upgrade all city street lights to LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) which use less energy. Eischens said Friday that the LED upgrade project would be the one to save the city the most money, $65,000 per year.

Finally, Option One would install new boilers at the Bemidji Public Library and improve the building’s “envelope,” or protection from heat infiltrating the building in the summer and cold sneaking in during winter.

Option Two, the one the city chose to pursue further, includes all of Option One but adds energy projects at other city buildings. City Hall would get a better envelope, and a leaky roof access hatch would be fixed. Rather than just new boilers, the library would get replacements for its air handling and conditioning units. The Public Works building would also get fixes to its air handling unit.

Option Three, which the city chose not to pursue, involves replacing the ice plant at the Neilson-Reise Arena. Mayor Rita Albrecht said the council was hesitant to go after energy fixes to the aging arena when there are bigger considerations for them to think about.

“We weren’t really anxious to keep that in the project list when we have some larger decisions to make about it,” Albrecht said Friday.

The council will discuss the future of the ice arena at a May 28 work session.

The city still needs to sign a contract with ESG for the renovations themselves. ESG will start implementing the renovation plan about a year after the contract is approved, presentation documents said. Before actual renovations can begin, financing needs to be ironed out between the city and ESG, subcontractors must be hired and the efficiency plan must be reviewed by state authorities.