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Energy retrofits

Energy retrofits

Last year the city of Columbia Office of Sustainability was created through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation block grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Columbia was lucky to receive these funds because they will continue to benefit the city long after the grant is done. The grant funds go toward activities including energy audits on city-owned facilities and energy retrofits on city-owned facilities.

Energy audits conducted in 2010 found more than $175,000 of potential energy savings in city-owned facilities. Energy could be saved by making such simple changes as installing programmable thermostats and replacing lighting fixtures with more efficient fixtures. Other energy-savings suggestions were more costly or physically invasive to a structure. The catch with the potential savings was that, if all completed, they would cost more than $725,000 — which is $125,000 over the funding DOE gave Columbia for retrofit improvements.

The Office of Sustainability, with the help of an internal team of City Operators Reducing Energy (CORE ), had to decide which projects to select for grant funding. The question became: “How do we pick which projects to complete and which ones to save for a later date?” The answer was a simple payback calculation.

Measuring benefits

A simple payback calculation compares the initial cost of the upgrade with the overall energy savings expected for the lifetime of the upgrade. For example, a lighting retrofit in the water administration building will cost around $1,615. We expect the upgrades will result in $359 savings in our annual electric bills. That means that in about four and a half years, the savings will have paid for the upgrade. Any additional savings after that are just icing on the cake.

Most of the projects the Office of Sustainability has chosen to complete have a simple payback in less than 10 years. There are a few projects that will take a bit longer to pay for themselves. In some cases, we decided to do them because the building was already having repairs done and it made sense to go ahead and add on energy-efficient upgrades.

Sometimes improvements were sought as a way to improve working conditions by improving poor lighting or uncomfortable indoor temperatures. By doing these retrofits, we were able to improve working conditions for employees. It is not surprising that a happy worker is a productive worker.

Energy ROI

The city is already realizing a return on investment. One of the projects selected by CORE was to make recommended HVAC system and lighting improvements at the Health Department. Following completion of the HVAC project in June, energy use has significantly decreased. Electricity savings are slightly in excess of 25 percent, and reductions in natural gas use have exceeded expectations.

Since completion of this project, the Health Department has used only 3ccf of natural gas. In comparison, the average use during the past four years for the same time period was 190 ccf. Through these greater-than-expected energy savings, the project costs will likely be recaptured sooner than the initial projection of two and a half years. The lighting retrofits are expected to reduce electricity use 15 percent in addition to the reductions already realized by HVAC upgrades.

Rebate for retrofits

All of the projects that the city has undergone or will be undergoing are applicable to most businesses in Columbia. Replacing light bulbs and fixtures with more efficient options will save businesses in their operating costs and typically have a quick payback.

Columbia Water & Light has a rebate for lighting retrofits that will help lower the cost of the project. And actively changing thermostats to operate differently during occupied times versus unoccupied times is another low-no cost solution to higher utility bills.

Business owners interested pursing energy efficiency projects are encouraged to visit There they will find information on their HVAC rebates, low interest loans for energy improvements, the lighting rebate program, the load management program and many more helpful programs offered to make businesses run better.

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