05/13/09 — City looking at ways to cut energy costs

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City looking at ways to cut energy costs

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 13, 2009 1:46 PM

Think your electric bill is high?

In fiscal year 2007-2008, the city of Goldsboro received a $500,000 bill just for turning on the streetlights.

Members of the city's energy committee are examining new ways of addressing the city's energy concerns in an effort to save taxpayer money and help the environment. A few of the ideas in the works include replacing the city streetlights with more efficient models and retrofitting the police department's vehicles to run on propane.

The city is even considering hiring a performance contractor to find other ways of reducing costs, said committee member and city Inspections Director Ed Cianfarra.

"We are in the process right now of writing up an RFP (request for proposal) to accept companies to come in and start to look at all the city facilities, all the facilities that the city works out of," Cianfarra said.

The energy contractors would walk through the buildings, checking every light switch, thermostat and other electric devices.

"They will make a proposal to the city stating that for 'x' number of dollars, we can save you 'x' number of dollars in utility costs," Cianfarra said.

Then the city would engage in what's known as an investment grade audit, a much more intensive energy auditing process.

"That's when they really come in and look at every electric motor. They will increase the performance of everything," he said.

The big benefit of the energy service company, or ESCO, is that one way or another, the city should be saving money, he said.

"They guarantee that you will save enough money in utility bills to make that payment on that. If for some reason they're wrong, they will make up the difference," Cianfarra said.

The ESCO would cut Goldsboro a check if the company couldn't hold up its end of the bargain and bring down the city's energy costs.

"Ultimately it's a budget reallocation," said ESCO spokesman Robert Williams during a presentation to the city council last week.

But Goldsboro isn't waiting for the RFP before testing out a few energy-saving measures. Streetlights are energy guzzlers, but newer technologies exist that can reduce both energy and maintenance costs, said lighting company representative Bill Gilbert at a presentation to the council. The technology has been around for 15 to 20 years, but it's only now getting the attention it deserves -- and it's considerably less expensive, Gilbert said.

"It costs one-half to one-third the cost of LED, lasts twice as long as LED and it's more efficient," he said.

Induction is a fluorescent technology that produces light without using a superheated a wire.

"It uses an electromagnetic current to excite the gas that's inside," Gilbert said. "You've got a light that's about twice as efficient as what you have now."

The induction lighting lasts about 100,000 hours. Even if the city ran the lights 24 hours a day, they would last for 12 years, and are under warranty for 10, he said. Maintenance for the fixtures is about $75-100 for each one, and the lights cost about $250 each, as compared to the $750-1,000 for LED lighting.

The city will conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see whether switching all of the city parks to induction lighting would be cost effective.

The innovation doesn't stop with streetlights. The police department is also examining the possibility of retrofitting police vehicles to run on propane gas, but the program is getting mixed reviews from other law enforcement agencies.

Chief of Police Tim Bell said he spoke with the police chief in Rocky Mount, where their department tried the propane-based cars about six years ago.

"'Our troops hated it, it killed our cars,'" Bell quoted. "He said, 'I would definitely say not to do it.'"

But the Sheriff's Office in Jackson County, Ga., reported using the system with great success.

"They just started it last year when gas went up so high. He says it's the best thing in the world he's ever done," Bell said.

The system the sheriff's office in Georgia uses cranks the car on gasoline, but once the engine warms up, it switches to propane. The propane tank fits into the space where the car's spare tire would normally rest. The gas mileage is about the same, but since switching to propane, the fleet changes the oil every 6,000 rather than every 3,600 miles, Bell said.

He plans on going to Georgia to talk to the deputies and drive one of the modified cars.

The city may also examine possible biodiesal options for fueling city vehicles.

"We may be able to reduce our fuel costs in half," Cianfarra said. "This is a long-term situation where we again can save the taxpayers money ultimately that's our goal in our energy conservation we want to go greener."