County makes money on energy upgrades

Sep 23, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

When Fremont County government spent federal stimulus funds to install nearly $300,000 in energy-efficient upgrades at more than a dozen buildings, its out-of-pocket costs totaled around $42,000.

Then Rocky Mountain Power cut the county a check for about $62,000 as a rebate for installing the energy-saving lights, heaters and other utility upgrades.

"We were able to pay back the county money and actually put money in the bank," county building maintenance supervisor JR Oakley said.

"In reality we did all of this for free -- actually put money into the bank -- with no cost to the county. That took a lot of extra effort on the personnel in our department, but in the end it was all worth it."

Entire project benefits

The total out-of-pocket costs for the $612,251 county government project, which also included upgrades for the library department, reached almost $92,000. With a few thousand dollars extra for the library's rebate from Rocky Mountain, the total expenditure to county coffers was $27,873.

"We will pay that back in one year just in energy savings," Oakley said.

The project began in 2008 with talks involving the county commission about the grant's availability.

"Due to the vastness and complexity of the project and other things that happened, it took awhile to get the project together," Oakley said. "We now are at the end of it, completed, and seeing the benefits."

The upgrades include bulbs that are brighter and lights that detect motion and automatically shut off after several minutes. The lights themselves are more energy efficient as well.

"By doing that we also reduced the amount of bulbs in the majority of our fixtures," Oakley said. "Most of our fixtures were four-bulb fixtures. We went to a two-bulb fixture."

Better light

Oakley said the effect is "more light, better light with fewer bulbs and better wattage. We reduced our bulb inventory plus reduced our kilowatt-hour consumption."

The upgrades affected 16 county buildings including the courthouse, detention center, extension offices in Riverton and Lander, public health in Riverton and various shop buildings.

Other upgrades include infrared heating units in the county road shops, resealed roll-up doors to prevent heat loss and new boilers installed in the courthouse.

The library received new lighting, a chiller and a burner installed on its existing boiler. The facility also received a new garage door and a roof hatch.

"In two months we've been able to see a difference, and we're reducing our kilowatt hours on the average of 350 to 400 kilowatt hours a month," Oakley said. "We are tracking it for a year so that we will be able to justify the savings."

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said the upgrades represent an important cost savings to the county.

"I'm very thankful to the county that it got done, to JR and his staff and the people before JR who started it," Whiteman said.

Fremont County emphasis

Oakley handled much of the work in-house, and all but one of the contractors came from Fremont County.

"The county commissioners are always trying to promote locally, and this is a very good example of doing something locally," he said.

"There were companies out there that we interviewed that for a fee would come in and manage these projects for us.

"We felt we could do it on our own. ... The money savings we felt were worth it."

Overall, he said, the savings to the county make the entire project worthwhile.

"It was a win for Fremont County to participate in this," Oakley said. "We were able to do almost $600,000 worth of work to the existing county buildings and ... reduce our monthly energy costs at pennies on the dollar."

He thanked the Wyoming Business Council for the "huge part" it took in the endeavor.

"They managed the federal money," Oakley said. "They were very good to work with. They walked us through this whole thing, so they were a driving force in this."

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