$2.2 million grant will make county buildings more efficient

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By AJ Vicens

Jeffco taxpayers could save more than $250,000 a year on utility costs for county facilities in coming years thanks to a $2.2 million grant from the federal government.

The county will formally accept the money next week and begin working with contractors to develop a plan to upgrade the energy efficiency of some of its buildings. The county has 180 days after accepting the funds to commit 100 percent of the grant money, and three years to spend it.

One of the contractors working with the county, Seattle-based building consultant McKinstry, presented various options for saving money to the county commission on Nov. 3. The firm suggested the county spend more than $4 million using the grant and between $2.5 million and $3.5 million in loans. McKinstry said the county could finance the extra spending using guaranteed savings from reduced utility costs.

Leslie Larocque, business development manager at McKinstry said the process would be challenging because the county buildings on the Golden campus are very energy-efficient already.

McKinstry presented a preliminary plan that could save 15 to 18 percent in annual utility costs and prevent roughly 5 million pounds of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere. McKinstry presented a list of more than 30 suggestions, including installing large roof-mounted solar panels on several county buildings, which McKinstry said could save more than $80,000 every year. The up-front costs for the solar equipment would be $1.7 million.

Another suggestion is for the commissioners to implement a "personal appliance policy" that prevents employees from using personal space heaters and other “unnecessary” electronics in their offices. Larocque said in many cases it would be more efficient energy-wise and financially for the county to increase the temperature in buildings by several degrees than for employees to use space heaters. That policy could save the county nearly $20,000 per year.

The county also could save $42,750 per year if it didn't spend so much energy keeping computer servers cool, Larocque said. She said studies have shown that computer servers can tolerate temperatures a little higher than industry standards recommend.

The commissioners seemed receptive to most suggestions until Larocque said the county could save nearly $28,000 per year by opening county buildings an hour later every day or closing them earlier at night.

"There's a customer-service issue there," Commissioner Kathy Hartman said.

"Scheduling could be a way to address that," said Jefferson County Administrative Services Director Todd Leopold. He told the commissioners that using smaller buildings for after-hours public meetings could make it easier to close larger buildings earlier, especially the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building in Golden.

Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the idea would never fly.

"We want to make decisions based on a reasonable, common-sense approach," McCasky said. "These are the citizens' buildings, and we will be open. Closing buildings or changing hours is not really an option in a government setting. We can focus on other areas to achieve those savings."

McKinstry said that if the county fully funds the project, 44 jobs will be created or retained, along with the utility savings and the benefits to the economy.

McCasky asked if the project could use Jeffco-based contractors for most of the work, and McKinstry said is has a local office is in Conifer.

The commissioners instructed county staff to move forward with the plans and accept the grant, and to come back soon with specific funding requirements and financing plans.

"I'm glad we're finally doing this," McCasky said. "We've been messing with this for a long time."

Contact the Columbine Courier news desk at emile@evergreenco.com.