Although the price of natural gas and electricity have steadily risen over the last five years, Linn County has continued to come in under budget for its energy purchases due to conservation measures.
The county has reduced its use of natural gas by more than 30 percent and electricity by nearly nine percent, according to Russ Williams, general services director. In dollars and cents, Williams said the county budgets about $139,000 for electricity and last year’s bill came in $10,000 under budget and $58,000 for natural gas, coming in $15,000 under budget.
Williams said the energy updating process actually started before he came on board in 2005, after several years experience as facilities manager at Hewlett-Packard.
“Former employee Linda Penick actually got the ball rolling in this area,” Williams said. “The county saw that energy costs were going up as much as 17 or 18 percent and our budget couldn’t keep up with that.”
He credits Oregon State University senior Alex Ridley, 23, for the success of many of the county’s projects. Ridley’s major is electrical and computer engineering. He has interned with the county for about 18 months.
“The county has actually added a lot of equipment that has added energy usage to the system such as computer servers and phone equipment,” Ridley said. “But because of the greater efficiency of the new equipment, overall usage is down.”
Major cost savings have been realized by replacing more than 1,000 old fluorescent light bulbs in county buildings with new energy efficient T8 bulbs, Ridley said.
“The new bulbs produce more light while using fewer watts of energy and they actually cost less,” Ridley said. “If every bulb in the county system were on at the same time, the new bulbs would be saving the county 8,000 watts of energy.”
Williams said the projects have been paid for out of the regular budgeting process and with grants from the Energy Trust of Oregon and the Business Energy Tax Credit program through the Department of Energy.
Many of the replacements were made by the county staff without hiring outside help.
“We’ve crawled into attics at 5 a.m. to make changes,” Williams said.
Williams said another important part of saving energy costs is simply reviewing every building and equipment’s operations at least every five years.
“For example, in the Expo Hall at the fairgrounds, the warm air vents were about 25 feet in the air, but the air returns were at 20 feet,” Williams said. “The air returns were sucking the warm air back into the furnace before it got to ground level. We installed a false wall in front of the air return and now, instead of it taking hours to warm up the hall, it takes 25 to 35 minutes.”
Williams said some projects can’t be justified economically.
For example, the courthouse windows are single-pane and should be replaced with modern, double-pane units.
“But that will cost about $139,000 and the return on investment just isn’t there,” Williams said.
The next step is to develop an employee education program. Aster Chong recently attended an energy fair in Washington County to learn how other counties are spreading the word among staff members.
Other energy saving measures:
— Mulching the clipping at the courthouse lawn instead of mowing, bagging and hauling them to the landfill.
— Replacing high wattage light bulbs located high on the courthouse with ground-mounted, energy efficient units that don’t require rental of high-lift equipment or annual replacement.
— Installing LED light strips under the handrails on steps inside the courthouse. The highly-efficient LEDs provide a lot of light at very little cost, while creating a major safety factor.
— Replacing old water faucets with more efficient one and installing low-flow toilets.
— Reducing the amount of water used to irrigate the courthouse lawn.