Missoula City Council gives green light to $1 million in energy conservation work

2010-08-10T22:11:00Z 2010-08-10T22:22:15Z Missoula City Council gives green light to $1 million in energy conservation workBy KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian missoulian.com
August 10, 2010 10:11 pm  • 

Let there be light - new light bulbs along Missoula trails.

Let there also be an estimated $2.6 million saved in city power bills, operations and capital expenses in the future and over the course of 15 years.

The Missoula City Council this week unanimously gave a green light to 19 energy conservation upgrades worth some $1.37 million. Vehicle maintenance superintendent Jack Stucky said he plans to present a related financial contract to the council in the next few weeks and expects the installations to be complete in roughly one year.

"Coming into this project, there were some really exciting things," Stucky said Tuesday. "The stuff that we expected to have huge paybacks on didn't happen. And the stuff that we didn't even dream about had really good paybacks."

Last year, the city of Missoula contracted with Johnson Controls to conduct an energy audit and recommend conservation upgrades. The company identified 43 possible projects costing $7.8 million, according to a city memo.

Stucky said city officials reviewed the report and selected 19 ideas. The average payback time is nine years and the total annual savings is $108,538. Ideas that had payback times of 100 years or so - or cost too much money - got eliminated or postponed for a second possible phase.

Others, such as new light bulbs along the Clark Fork River Trail and other places, made the cut. Stucky said the fixtures needed to be replaced anyway and the retrofit - beginning as early as September - will save money and look nice.

"They put out real close to the same amount of light," Stucky said. "If you see them, it's really hard to tell whether they're any dimmer than the other ones."

The city memo notes the funds come from a variety of sources: $182,556 from the Missoula Parking Commission, which undergoes lighting upgrades; $251,841 in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant money; and $935,614 in capital improvement money.

Johnson Controls puts its money where its mouth is on the estimated savings. A company spokesperson could not be reached Tuesday for comment, but Stucky said Johnson Controls guarantees the savings it estimates in its study. The measuring takes place in the three years after the project is complete.

"If Johnson Controls says, ‘We're going to save you X amount of energy,' and they don't save that much, they have to pay us the difference," Stucky said. "So the numbers we're looking at here are pretty conservative ‘cause they don't want to say they're going to save something they're not."

The guarantee likely explains why in a sometimes tense budget year the council unanimously approved the list of projects with a $1.3 million pricetag. The savings begin after the estimated nine-year payback period.


In an e-mail and phone call, Councilman Jason Wiener said the plan is a good deal all around. It's an example of a functional government saving energy, boosting the economy with "green jobs," and planning for long-term cost reductions.

His favorite idea? Weather-stripping for the door in the back of council chambers, and not because he's feeling a draft.

"It's one of those extraordinarily simple things that people can do that can make a big difference in how much energy they're expending" Wiener said. "That's the one that grabbed my attention. Not very glitzy."

That particular idea isn't part of the current list of approved projects, but Stucky said it's one that's so simple the city might go ahead and do the work itself.

Stucky said one focus of the project was reducing energy use at the sewer plant, but engineers said the plant actually was doing well. A project to add solar panels to heat the city's 50-meter swimming pool proved too expensive, so a $58,865 thermal cover will be used instead. It'll pay for itself in 5.4 years, according to a list of approved projects posted with this story on Missoulian.com.

Watering and irrigating in parks also is part of the plan, such as a "smart irrigation" system that reads the weather and turns sprinklers on or off as needed, Stucky said. He also said energy technology is advancing quickly.

"The thing that amazed me probably the most about it was that as fast as the technology is changing, by the time we're done with a study that takes two years, you can almost do it over again," Stucky said.

City chief administrative officer Bruce Bender said the city will likely plan to review its energy consumption every few years. He also said the project has a couple goals.

"It comes out of our quest to deal with reducing our energy use, but also our carbon (foot)print," Bender said.

The project is estimated to cut carbon dioxide emissions 347.4 tons each year, according to the city. That's the equivalent of 808 barrels of oil.

An estimate of the city's total emissions wasn't available Tuesday but a study is expected to be released in mid-September, according to city communications director Ginny Merriam.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller on Twitter, (406) 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.


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