Pulaski County buildings are midway through a slow-moving metamorphosis to become more environmentally friendly, which is predicted to reap millions of dollars in savings when complete.
The project -- upgrading lighting, heating and air and plumbing fixtures at county facilities -- arose from a state law, Act 554 of 2013.
Act 554 created the Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting program, overseen by the state energy office.
The program allows state agencies and institutions and, starting in 2015 counties and municipalities, to find ways to pay for environmental upgrades they might not have otherwise been able to afford by considering the eventual savings that will come through lower energy costs.
The program offers a "budget-neutral" means to make those upgrades, meaning the savings are predicted to pay for the initial cost over time.
Pulaski County was the first county to participate, said Kelly Robinson, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Since its inception, 13 projects have been completed, and many more are in various stages of development, Robinson said.
In February 2016, Pulaski County awarded a contract to Entegrity, a sustainability and energy services company, to perform an audit of county facilities.
The audit was "really a deep dive into the way they're using their energy," said Rob Guthrie, director of business development at Entegrity.
The company recommended the county convert 10,000 existing light fixtures to LED lighting, which "everybody is doing these days because it's just a slam dunk, financially," Guthrie said.
About 1,000 plumbing fixtures needed to be upgraded, which would cut county water and sewer costs by a quarter, Entegrity predicted.
Also, about 40 percent of the current heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units needed to be replaced. A slew of other upgrades are needed at the adult and juvenile jail complex.
In August, Pulaski County, with the help of the state energy office, entered a $5 million contract with Entegrity to pay for the upgrades. About $268,000 was also provided by the electric utility Entergy, Guthrie said.
The upgrades were expected to save $8 million for the county over the financing term of 15 years, a news release said.
As part of the program, Entegrity has to monitor the upgrades for at least three years after the project is completed. If they fall short of the agreed upon savings goal, the company pays for the difference.
At the Pulaski County jail, 3201 W. Roosevelt Road, workers recently finished installing 437 new low-flow toilets, 70 low-flow sinks and four low-flow urinals.
The changes should save about 12.2 million gallons of water annually, Entegrity predicted.
Entegrity also has installed 4,043 lighting fixtures. Still to come are 854 tamper-proof fire sprinkler heads and heating and cooling system replacements and retrofits.
Taken together, the improvements at the jail, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, should save about 1,822,400 kilowatt hours of energy, annually.
By comparison, that amount of energy is the same as the greenhouse gas emissions for 290 passenger cars if they're driven for an entire year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It's also equivalent to the energy used to drive a single car 3.3 million miles.
Put differently, it's equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 147 homes, or the energy it takes to throw 55,440 barbecues, if a cylinder of propane is used at each one.
What the improvements mean for county residents is they will "ultimately save taxpayer dollars, improve county facilities, create jobs and allow Pulaski County to be a leader in energy performance," Barry Hyde, county judge of Pulaski County, said in a previous statement.
The improvements at the jail have meant the 1,210-bed facility is in "a constant remodel in motion," said Maj. Matthew Briggs, who oversees the jail.
The staff has been closing the 18 units, one at a time, while crews work around the clock. After installing the toilets and sinks, Entegrity will start overhauling the heating and cooling system.
The company plans to finish its work on the entire project this summer.
There have been "some growing pains, as there is with any kind of project," Briggs said.
A couple of "incidents" have led to fixtures being damaged or destroyed, he said, but they've always been replaced quickly.
"Something's indestructible until somebody breaks it the first time."
Metro on 02/26/2018