Pulaski County to vote on energy-upgrade financing; savings put at $9M

Pulaski County officials will soon vote on a plan to use a state program to help finance energy-efficiency upgrades at the county's 14 buildings that are projected to save nearly $9 million over 15 years.

In 2013, an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution allowed state agencies and higher education campuses to pay for energy-efficiency improvement projects using utility savings. The Energy Performance Contracting program, run by the state's Energy Office, was then expanded by another amendment to include municipalities and counties in 2015.

"From our perspective, it's a way for public entities to greatly improve their energy consumption and thus be more responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, while simultaneously driving economic development in an emerging industry," said Chet Howland, the state's energy finance program manager.

In February 2016, Pulaski County hired Little Rock-based Entegrity Energy Partners to perform an audit of all county facilities. After inspecting every facility, including "every light fixture, every socket, every light switch," the company determined that county buildings had consumed about 15.6 million kilowatt hours in the past year, accruing more than $1.3 million in electricity charges.

"We're going to drop that down close to 13 [kilowatt hours]. That's a little over 15 percent reduction in energy," said Rob Guthrie, Entegrity's director of business development.

That would be achieved in part by replacing all of the 10,000 light fixtures in county facilities with LED lighting, which would result in a 68 percent reduction in lighting energy and demand, saving about $120,000 a year, Entegrity said.

The audit also identified water saving opportunities in the county jail, where, as a facility that operates 24 hours a day, water consumption is two to three times higher per square foot than at other county buildings.

"Inmates in jails for whatever reason love to flush the toilet a lot and love to run the shower excessively," Guthrie said. "We are proposing a countywide water conservation project, and the bulk of these savings are going to come from the jail -- 16 million gallons of water saved annually through this project. That's about 6.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools."

Those improvements, combined with other efficiency upgrades in roofing, plumbing systems and cooling and heating systems, are projected to cost a maximum of $5.3 million, according to Entegrity's figures. The upgrades would save the county a minimum of $8.9 million over 15 years, the company said.

And because state law binds energy service companies like Entegrity to those projected maximum costs and savings, the county would not be liable if the project ran over budget or did not net the promised $8.9 million in savings. For a minimum three-year period, Entegrity is required by state law to track efficiency improvements to ensure the savings are being realized.

Every year Pulaski County Comptroller Mike Hutchens asks the Quorum Court to allocate funds for maintenance and improvement projects as they become needed. Recently he's requested the court allocate $2 million for upgrades on the 111-year-old county courthouse.

This year, he was poised to request $4 million to replace a chiller. But through the Energy Performance Contracting program, the county can tackle all needed upgrades at once with energy savings and project cost guaranteed.

Currently the county has $4.5 million in its capital improvement reserve fund.

"I don't mean to say it's a no-brainer, but it's kind of one of those no-brainer things," Hutchens said.

Next month, the county's Quorum Court will vote on options to finance the $5.3 million upgrade project and secure a contract with Entegrity.

About 10 years ago the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville became the first institution in the state to procure energy efficiency upgrades financed by utility savings. However, that project was done without the legal framework that 2013's constitutional amendment later provided.

There are 16 active projects in the Energy Performance Contracting program, according to the state's Energy Office.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff has the largest, with a projected cost of $19.3 million and $21.5 million in savings, followed by Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, with $15.2 million in costs and $25.1 million in savings.

Howland said he expects to see lots of interest from governmental entities across the state as capital improvement budgets remain stagnant and energy efficiency technology -- like LED lighting and solar panels -- become cheaper.

"It's going to be a no-brainer for cash-strapped public entities, so really, really expecting a flurry of activity," Howland said.

Metro on 02/16/2017