Portland is told it can save nearly $1.5 million a year if it’s willing to make improvements.
by Dennis Hoey, staff writer
PORTLAND — The city is being asked to make as much as $15 million worth of energy conservation improvements that a consultant says would reduce Portland’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5,000 tons a year – the equivalent of taking 933 cars off the road.
Ameresco, a Framingham, Mass.-based company, estimates the city will save nearly $1.5 million a year if it does things like converting from fuel oil to natural gas-based heating systems and installing energy-efficient lighting and windows in city-owned buildings.
City officials say an investment in energy conservation is appealing because of a contract agreement Portland has with Ameresco.
If the city doesn’t save as much as Ameresco projects, the company will have to reimburse the city to make up the difference. The idea is to have the energy savings at least cover the cost of the improvements.
“If the savings fall short, Ameresco cuts us a check,” said Troy Moon, Portland’s solid waste manager and a member of the city’s environmental sustainability committee. “Ameresco is not in the business of losing money.”>/p>
Ameresco, which has an office on Union Wharf in Portland, and the city released preliminary findings today from an energy audit done earlier this year on 55 city-owned buildings.
City councilors are expected to review the findings on Wednesday. The city staff and councilors must eventually decide which energy-saving steps they want to take.
Those measures will be in the final energy savings performance contract. The city is under no obligation to commit to all of the $15 million.
Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman, said the performance contract is believed to be the largest ever undertaken in Maine.
It represents an alternative way to fund major capital projects and to remain budget-neutral – the energy conservation measures pay for themselves through energy savings, she said.
David Anderson, Ameresco’s executive vice president, said the company is developing similar contracts with Columbia, S.C., Miami and Knoxville, Tenn.
He said Ameresco will guarantee annual energy savings to the city. He said the contract with Portland will likely remain in effect for 15 years.
In a prepared statement, City Manager Joseph Gray said, “In looking for alternate methods to fund energy-efficiency projects without going to the taxpayers, the city found it could use a performance contract to generate savings that pay for significant and needed mechanical and building improvements with no up front costs and a minimum guaranteed outcome.”>/p>
The preliminary audit report calls for the city to invest as much as $15 million in more than 400 projects, all of which would be aimed at conserving energy in city buildings.
Portland now spends about $8 million a year to heat and light its buildings.
For example, Ameresco recommends that the city spend $700,000 to convert from heating oil to natural gas, which would save about $390,000 a year and pay for itself in just under two years.
Another recommendation calls for $990,000 to upgrade boilers and replace heating controls, and produce annual savings of $180,000.
The payback period on that project would be 5 1/2 years.
Other projects might include installation of small-scale wind turbines on rooftops, solar thermal power sources, energy-efficient lighting systems and water efficiency improvements.
Moon, who has overseen the project for the city, said the council has about $500,000 in federal stimulus money that it can use to help fund some of the improvements.
Any costs in excess of that would likely have to be funded with a municipal bond.
The projects could begin as soon as next spring, Moon said.