El Paso Goes Green

02/23/2009 |

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

 

Feb. 17--EL PASO, TX -- The city is pursuing a variety of improvements at its various buildings designed to reduce energy usage and in turn save millions of dollars for at least the next decade.

Through the Energy Savings Performance program, city officials expect to retrofit and install modern electric and solar infrastructure designed to reduce natural resource usage and save money.

"Any time that you can be more efficient with energy, do less harm to the environment and save money, there's an obligation to explore those avenues," said Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega.

With loans from Bank of America and from the State Energy Conservation Office, the city will spend about $14.7 million in infrastructure improvements that include new heating and cooling equipment, lighting upgrades, building management systems, solar heating systems and traffic signal upgrades.

The improvements, scheduled to be complete at 53 city buildings by December, are expected to save $1.8 million per year in energy costs and are projected to yield a $20.3 million reduction in operating costs during the next 10 years.

Savings will be used to repay the money borrowed from Bank of America and the State Energy Conservation Office. The project's contractor, Johnson Controls Inc., will pay the balance if savings are less than expected.

The city estimates that it can reduce electric consumption at its buildings by 30 percent and reduce electric consumption at traffic lights by 84 percent.

In the Lower Valley, as is happening in other city-operated buildings, the city is in the process of retrofitting lighting and the Pavo Real and Carolina recreation centers and adding solar heating panels for pool water at the William W. Cowan aquatic center.

Improvements also include light motion sensors that determine whether the lights need to be turned on automatically if someone is inside a building, and an electrical management system that allows city officials to manage buildings by remote at City Hall.

Gerardo Velazquez, energy manager for the city of El Paso, described the project as a far more efficient means of operating city buildings, which will save money and use far fewer natural resources.

Solar Solutions has been contracted to install solar heating systems at eight of the city's aquatic centers that use sunlight to heat pool water using the same technology at olympic pools in Atlanta and Athens.

Gad A. Ronat, president of Solar Solutions, said it should take the city about five years to recoup its investment in the solar panels. For homeowners with pools, the cost is usually about $3,500 and takes about three years to make up the expense.

"The essence of the solar panel is it absorbs heat from the sun. The water, before it goes back to the pool, it passes through the solar panels," he said. "It's crazy. El Paso has 330 days of sun, so it's just crazy not to have a solar system."

Darren Meritz may be reached at dmeritz@elpasotimes.com; 546-6127.

By the numbers Some figures on the costs and savings of city's Energy Savings Performance program: --$14.7 million: Cost of improvements, including new heating and cooling equipment, lighting upgrades, building management systems, solar heating systems and traffic signal upgrades.

--$20.3 million: Estimated cut in operating costs for 10 years.

--30 percent: Amount of cuts in electricity usage at 53 city centers or buildings.

--84 percent: Cut in electricity usage for 6,600 traffic signals.

--December: Planned completion date. Source: City of El"Paso.

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