Energy Sustainability Goal: Stewardship Of Natural Resources And Tax Money

I thought you might enjoy reading something that I posted to Insights at The Greater Wilmington Business Journal last month. Conservation of energy saves us all money, and it’s the right thing to do . . .

Making the best use of the resources that citizens and taxpayers have entrusted to us should be a top goal for any responsible government agency. Our Energy Sustainability Policy is one way that New Hanover County works to live up to that goal.

As business managers and homeowners know well, smart energy use isn’t just a benefit for society and the environment, it also saves significant amounts of money. For a large institution, which operates multiple buildings and numerous vehicles, that saving is especially important.

Some of the strategies that New Hanover County is pursuing are:

  • Control of temperatures in all county buildings
  • Limits on use of small plug-in appliances by employees
  • Adoption of highly efficient LED lighting
  • Water conservation

At the heart of the county’s energy policy is a five-year action plan. During its first year, we established benchmark levels of energy usage in our buildings including our administrative offices, the public libraries, the county museum and others. We also compared our energy use to other counties around North Carolina.

Over the five-year plan, our goal is to reduce energy consumption by 4 percent each year or 20 percent over our 2013 costs.

So far, our measurements have shown that in the first eight months we have already reduced our energy consumption by 650,000 kilowatt hours. That’s equivalent to the total energy consumption of more than 50 typical homes for the same period. In terms any thrifty taxpayer should appreciate, that cut $50,700 off the county’s electric bill – even though the county absorbed a 4 percent rate increase from Duke Energy.

Comparable savings from other energy sources include $39,000 for propane and $8,000 for natural gas. Add together the electricity savings to the gas savings, and that’s almost $100,000 that can be used for the public benefit. Considered another way, it is $100,000 that doesn’t have to come from tax revenues. On top of the direct savings, the county has received about $80,000 in refunds and rebates from Duke Energy. These are similar to the incentives homeowners can get for installing more efficient heating and cooling systems or appliances.

Those rebates helped pay for our conversion from old-fashioned incandescent and fluorescent lighting to the best new light-emitting diode (LED) lamps.

To help meet our goals, our Property Management Department has set all building temperatures to a range of 70 degrees for heating and 74 degrees for cooling. That strikes a good balance between comfort and economy.

One major drain on the power system is so-called “plug-in load” – the small devices like coffee pots, space heaters, box fans and microwaves that can fill up personal work spaces. Many of these appliances have been removed from the county’s offices. However, we do still allow smaller personal fans including small, USB-powered fans that plug directly into a computer, drawing very little power.

Saving water is important for its own sake, but it saves energy as well. One approach to this goal is to begin installing dual-flush toilets. These are replacing automatic-flush toilets that too often seem to flush by themselves.

On a larger scale, we have installed cisterns at various facilities to collect rainwater. The biggest so far is at Animal Control Services, which is saving 300,000 to 400,000 gallons a year. That’s equivalent to $3,000 off the county’s water bill. A larger system being planned for the county jail could save about 1 million gallons a year.

A related initiative has been developing rain gardens at various county properties. These filter stormwater, reducing runoff and keeping our creeks and sound cleaner. We also have arranged for county residents to purchase their own rain barrels at a 25 percent discount from the New Hanover Soil & Water Conservation District at the county offices from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.

The renovation of the former county administration building at Fourth and Chestnut streets includes many energy efficient components, including Wilmington’s first “live green roof.” Our green roof incorporates waterproof membranes, soil and plants, and has both environmental and energy-saving benefits. Buildings with green roofs stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

A sustainability committee comprising county employees meets regularly, looking for ways to reward departments that further reduce our energy costs. Beyond saving money, we want to set an example for other organizations and be good stewards of our natural resources.

All of this will help New Hanover County accomplish our objective of effective county government, to be “The Model of Good Governance.”

« Back to overview