Energy efficiency, solar save money for the City
Wed, 10/28/2020 - 10:05am admin
CRESCO - At its Oct. 5 meeting, the Cresco City Council received a report on the city’s energy usage and utility costs. The report showed both what the city is spending on utilities and how much the efficiency improvements and the solar are helping the city’s budget. “Of course, anything we save on energy costs keeps our tax levy rate and water rates lower,” Michelle Girolamo, City Clerk, explained.
Amy Bouska, the Council member who tracks the energy costs, summarized the report as showing that the city has done a good job at controlling its utility costs, which have increased 2% annually for the past nine fiscal years. This success is thanks to the efforts of all of the departments, plus the energy efficiency improvements made by the city and its solar power purchase agreement. However, Bouska noted, that without continuing efficiency improvements, the utility costs will begin to increase faster.
Thirty-two percent of the city’s total utility dollars (electricity + natural gas + vehicle gas and diesel + water/sewer + phone/internet) are spent on electricity for the water and sewer departments to run the powerful pumps at the two wells and the sewage treatment plant. The solar fields at the wells help keep electricity costs down but the city still has to buy some power for the wells from the grid. Interestingly, the amount of water that the city’s residents and businesses use has been decreasing, probably due to the continuing installation of low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads. Bouska commented that wasting water is really wasting electricity, so be sure to turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth!
The city’s electric costs have been essentially constant since FY 2014/15 in spite of utility rate increases, thanks to LED lights installed everywhere in the city, more efficient air conditioners, and the solar power purchase agreement.
Natural gas and gasoline / diesel costs are dependent on market prices and weather (heating buildings and plowing snow). Due primarily to lower prices, costs have been flat for nine years.
By trading space on the water towers for free internet access, the city has kept its phone / internet costs nearly constant since FY 2014/15.
City Hall is a real success story for saving money. When two of the air conditioners were replaced in 2012, electricity usage decreased by about 25%. Replacement of the lights by LEDs in 2014 saved an additional 20%. Installation of solar in 2016 didn’t cut energy usage but it did reduce the cost of electricity. The city is now paying about 11₵ per kWh for power from Solar Pro LLC compared to about 16 -17₵ from Alliant. Bouska pointed out that one of the things to remember about reducing usage or installing solar is that it insulates you from rate increases. In 2010, City Hall paid $4,821 for electricity; in 2019, the total bill was $2,921. She estimated that if the building were still using the same amount of power as it did in 2010 without solar, the bill now would be about $6,400.
Surprisingly, the change to LEDs has also led to big savings at the traffic lights, where costs were reduced by about one-third. Although we only think about them for the moment we are driving through the intersection (or stopping), these are very bright lights that are lit 24/7/365.
The seven solar installations on city property are owned by a local company called Solar Pro LLC. This arrangement is called a solar power purchase agreement, which allows Solar Pro to access the solar tax credits, while the city purchases power for a rate less than that charged by Alliant. When Solar Pro has used all of the tax credits, it is assumed that the city will be able to purchase the solar panels from them for significantly less than the original installation cost. In the meantime, Bouska estimated that the solar is saving the city over $10,000 per year (before Alliant’s recent rate increase). Although this may not seem like much, it means that the city can get a “free” police car every three years with the money that is saved.
Going forward, the report indicated that it is important that the city continue to improve its energy efficiency or energy costs will begin to increase at a faster rate. Since essentially all of the city’s properties have been converted to LED lights, the next “frontier” for savings will be to make sure that new furnaces and air conditioners are replaced by units with the lowest life-cycle cost, that is, purchase price plus lifetime energy costs. Using life-cycle cost as the basis for purchasing decisions will help the city – and any homeowner or business -- save money in the long run.
In short, energy efficiency and solar power are helping the city provide more services for fewer tax dollars.