MANKATO — Blue Earth County has demonstrated in two of its Mankato buildings that even energy efficient buildings can be tapped for added energy savings.
Nearly a decade ago, the Blue Earth County Board of Commissioners had a vision to work with local vendors to make updates to the historic courthouse—built in 1889—with the aim of enhancing energy efficiency and saving taxpayer dollars.
As a result of these efforts, the Blue Earth County Courthouse was awarded a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® certification in 2006 and for three years thereafter. A similar commitment was made for its Government Center, which first earned the ENERGY STAR certification in 2007 and for four years thereafter. (See accompanying article below, “ENERGY STAR certification brings recognition to two Blue Earth County buildings”).
But Tim Edwards, the county’s physical plant director, realized that despite these two buildings being recognized by ENERGY STAR for their superior energy performance, there were still opportunities for additional energy savings. So Edwards applied for energy funding from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program conducted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce (funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). This funding went toward installing motion detector controls for the lighting systems in the Courthouse and Government Center. The project provided 505 motion detectors in the Government Center and 118 in the Courthouse.
The project is estimated to reduce the average number of hours that individual lights are on in the Courthouse and Government Center from 12 hours per day to 10. Energy savings for the two buildings is expected to be more than $5,000 per year.
In addition, Edwards said “staff members have really enjoyed not having to worry about shutting the lights off and having people shouting that they were still in the office or the restrooms, so our staff greatly appreciates the upgrades. Also, we have not heard any complaints, so that is a good sign.”
Total cost of the project was about $37,600, with $22,300 from ARRA funding and the county match, and a rebate from the gas and electric provider (Xcel Energy) covering the rest. The payback is 7.3 years, meaning the project will pay for itself in energy savings over that time. The project is achieving better than a 13 percent return on investment. It would have been a good investment if the county had paid for the entire cost of the improvements, Edwards added.
Minnesota B3 Benchmarking tool provides ENERGY STAR ratings
Minnesota B3 Benchmarking is an energy tracking system for public buildings in Minnesota, including state, local government, and public school buildings. It provides the tools to manage your buildings, improve your building portfolio efficiently, and monitor the improvements.
The Blue Earth County Courthouse’s current B3 benchmark ratio is 96 percent, meaning it uses about one-third less energy than if it were a new building built to current energy codes. The Government Center’s current B3 benchmark ratio is 92 percent, a slightly better score. A building’s ENERGY STAR energy performance rating is featured under the ENERGY STAR tab in the B3 report.
The B3 tool is provided by the Minnesota Department of Administration and the Minnesota Department of Commerce. B3 is available to all state, local government, and public school buildings. To add your building to this database, go to the B3 website and click on “Contact Us.”
Resources for public building projects
Public institutions seeking energy improvement projects are encouraged to contact their local gas or electric utility. Utilities can help with building assessments and may provide rebates for energy efficiency improvements. The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) provides support to local government units, state agencies, school districts, and institutions of higher learning that are seeking energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. Contact DER at email@example.com to discuss which of its energy efficiency programs can be of help.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office also provides helpful resources for building retrofits, including “The Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for Office Buildings (pdf).” For more on energy efficiency, including information on Minnesota’s B3 Benchmarking tool, contact the DER Information Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lighting motion detectors for the Courthouse and Government Center were only the latest of a long and successful list of efforts by Blue Earth County to save energy in its buildings.
Blue Earth County improved the energy performance of these buildings by recommissioning existing equipment and upgrading the HVAC system and the lighting equipment.
EPA ENERGY STAR certification
The County Courthouse building has been ENERGY STAR certified for four years, achieving an energy performance rating of 81. The County Government Center has received certification for five years, achieving an energy performance rating of 87 in 2012.
An ENERGY STAR-certified facility meets strict energy performance standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and uses less energy, is less expensive to operate, and causes fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its peers. To qualify for the ENERGY STAR rating, a building must earn a score of 75 or higher on EPA's 1-100 energy performance scale, indicating that the facility performs better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide. The ENERGY STAR energy performance scale accounts for differences in operating conditions, regional weather data, and other important considerations. The ENERGY STAR certification is for a one-year period.