ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Elkins Saves Thousands On Bills

Monday, December 12, 2011

GRANTS USED FOR UPGRADES TO CITY HALL, LIBRARY

By Tony Hernandez

ELKINS — City officials knew they had a problem when, after shutting all the window blinds and covering all the doors in Elkins’ City Hall, they could see rays of sunshine seeping through the walls.

It was a sign that outdoor air was leaking into the 18-year-old building and wasting taxpayer dollars in heating and cooling costs, said Don Cryder, planning administrator.

But this year, Elkins and three towns in Benton County spent thousands of dollars in federal grant funds on energy efficiency as part of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the federal stimulus package.

Elkins received almost $130,000 to upgrade its leaky City Hall.

The goal of the program was to reduce fossil fuel emissions, reduce energy use and purchase renewable energy technology, said Mitchell Simpson, outreach and training manager at the Arkansas Energy Office. The office administered the funds provided to the Northwest Arkansas communities.

Elkins began several upgrade projects in February, beginning with the installation of the building’s wall insulation, Cryder said. City Hall looks brand new, he said.

“They wrapped the entire building with insulation, then added 2-by-4 (inch) framing,” Cryder said. “Then applied insulated vinyl siding entirely around the building.

The city also replaced heating and air conditioning systems at City Hall and the city’s library. Crews installed LED lights throughout City Hall, Cryder said.

All the projects were completed in October. However, city hall’s electric and gas bills started to reflect savings by March, as projects were finished. In the first nine months this year, Elkins saved $2,864 in electricity and $1,109 in gas compared with last year, Cryder said.

In September, the city’s electric bill dropped by more than half to $419 from $1,033 in 2010. The city had a $742 bill in July during the summertime’s record heat wave. Last year, the bill for the same month was $1,406.

For a small town, those dollars can be significant.

“I’m sure we can find a lot of things to do with it,” said Mayor Bruce Ledford.

Ledford said the savings will likely go toward other city infrastructure projects, such as replacing street lights with LED lights that last much longer and consume less energy, he said.

The federal government gave the state more than $6 million for the program, according to energy office’s website. All cities and counties were eligible, except for the largest 10. The largest 10 cities and counties could apply directly to the U.S. Department of Energy for the grant money.

The energy office selected 41 cities and counties out of 89 applications. The grant program was available for one year, Simpson said.

Bentonville, Gentry and Bella Vista also received money. Like Elkins, mayors in Gentry and Bella Vista used their grant money to upgrade heating and air conditioning units to public buildings.

Gentry Mayor Kevin Johnston said $40,000 was used to replace units decades old at the city’s police and court building.

“The building was constructed in the 1960s,” Johnston said. “I don’t know if it was the original equipment, but it was close to it."

Since installing the new equipment, he has seen energy savings between 18 percent and 34 percent compared to the year before, he said. He expects to save about $1,000 in the first year, he said.

Travis Mallock, Bentonville engineering director, said $14,000 in grant money will be used to help with the city’s Residential Energy Audit Program. City staff visit homes, at the request of residents, to detect weak energy points, like leaky windows that let in heat and cold.

Bentonville staff has completed 60 home energy audits so far this year, he said.

 

AT A GLANCE

Energy-Efficient Projects

  • Elkins: Received $129,859C for city hall replacements of lighting, heating and cooling system and insulation; library upgrade to heating and cooling system
  • Bella Vista: Received $37,513 for fire station replacements of window, doors, insulation and heating and cooling system
  • Bentonville: Received $13,845 for residential audit program
  • Gentry: Received $40,000 for police and court building replacement of heating and cooling system

Source: Arkansas Energy Office