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Energy Auditors Dramatically Cut Waste, Taxpayer Costs for Cities

In his new technology column, Jeffrey Hill looks at how some cities are saving cash by more efficiently tracking their energy use.

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In an effort to cut budget costs, several municipal governments are hiring energy auditors and efficiency managers to calculate the savings that would be provided to their cities by eliminating wasteful electricity use. New York City Councilman Eric Gioia is among those looking at the opportunity. “When I look at a city building with all the lights blaring at three in the morning, it’s the most obvious example of waste,” Gioia told the New York Daily News.

Responding to an energy waste article in the Daily News in which the city’s education department said it paid $172,000 for lighting, elevators, air conditioning and heating for its Court St. building in 2006, Gioia’s staffers discovered that about 25 to 70 percent of the lights in several city buildings were kept on past operating hours. The city’s education department admitted it could potentially save a third of what it paid in 2006 ($57,000 a year) by turning out the lights at night.

With the passing of the ARRA federal stimulus package, state funds are now available for towns to receive municipal energy audits, and several cities have already planned to take advantage of the opportunity. Across the Hudson River from New York, the Hoboken City Council announced on Feb. 18 that it authorized the hiring of an energy auditor of municipal buildings to seek reduction of carbon dioxide emissions within the city.

The city’s Quality of Life Coalition Board said that Hoboken City Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer guided the city administration through its application for a 75 percent reimbursement of the energy audit cost from the Municipal Board of Public Utilities under its local government energy audit program. When the recommended improvements are completed, the city will recoup the additional 25 percent of the cost while saving taxpayers up to six figures in costs associated with energy waste.

While six figures may not make or break large cities like New York or Hoboken, energy audits have a much larger impact on household budgets in smaller cities. Towns in western Massachusetts are being hit hard by energy costs, according to Center for Ecological Technology (CET) Director Laura Dubester. “Many [of the towns] haven’t had energy audits in more than a decade and technology has significantly advanced. Energy efficiency is the best way to reduce costs and our impacts on the environment,” said Dubester in a statement to the press.

CET, along with Precision Decisions, was recently awarded a contract by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to provide municipal energy audits for eligible Western Massachusetts schools, town halls, libraries, police and fire stations, water treatment plants, regional school districts, district waste water departments and other facilities. Cost-effective measures that reduce energy consumption for heating, cooling and electricity may be eligible, including heating and cooling system upgrades, energy-efficient lighting, energy management controls, pumps and motors. A qualifying Energy Audit is the first step in the process.

Otis and Lenox are among the first cities in the western Massachusetts region to receive funding to make energy-efficient improvements totaling $226,745 and $94,111, respectively, through DOER’s Green Communities program.

In Fall River, Mass., city government officials are using energy auditors to participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Challenge, launched in 2005 to provide resources to cities in order to identify areas for improving energy efficiency and develop a plan that incorporates the results of an energy audit already underway. The challenge calls for an energy efficiency improvement of 10 percent or more for the more than 5 million commercial and industrial buildings in the United States.

To kick-start its efforts, Fall River selected Ameresco Inc., an independent energy solutions company, in July 2008 to complete a citywide energy audit with a goal to save 20 to 30 percent on energy conservation. The city said it spent over $6.2 million on energy costs during fiscal 2007. “We basically look at the whole energy picture and look for efficiencies, whether it’s from renewable energy options or more efficient energy equipment,” said Ameresco spokeswoman Janet Coleman-Hall. “All of those things will help with (the city’s) Energy Star rating.”

Fall River joins approximately 50 other Massachusetts cities and towns that are participating in the Energy Star program. Surrounding communities including New Bedford, Brockton and Dartmouth have already accepted the EPA’s Community Energy Challenge.

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Tags: new york city

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