City of Fairfield: Energy project to save at least 10 percent annually

By LACEY JACOBS, Ledger staff writer | Mar 01, 2012

Solar tubes in the ceiling of the Fairfield City Hall council chambers are aglow on a sunny afternoon. The solar tubes are just one of several energy efficient upgrades made to eight city-owned buildings in the last year. An extensive project to improve energy efficiency at eight city-owned buildings is expected to pay for itself over the next 6.5 years.

Fairfield City Councilman Michael Halley reported Monday the $481,376 project that began in 2009 is now complete.

One-third of the project was funded by a federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant through the Iowa Office of Energy Independence. Another $45,000 to $50,000 in rebates from Alliant Energy is anticipated, putting the cost to Fairfield at $271,000 to $276,000, which will be recouped in energy savings.

Many of the upgrades were as simple as retrofitting lamps and installing programmable thermostats. At the Fairfield Public Library alone, 836 light bulbs were changed and nine occupancy sensors were installed.

“As soon as the new lights were installed in the public area of our building, readers remarked about the difference. Everyone who walked into the building stopped and looked around, because the contrast was really noticeable,” library director Rebecca Huggins said.

Another 327 bulbs were replaced at Roosevelt Community Recreation Center, 219 at public works, 132 at waterworks and 150 at city hall. Occupancy sensors also were installed at city hall (13), the fire department (16) and the rec center (12).

At city hall, 57 lamp and ballast fixtures were replaced. At the waterworks, 24 thermostats were replaced, and at the rec center, two ultra high efficient water heaters were installed. The list of work goes on.

“Even though most of this stuff wasn’t very interesting, it’s the same stuff people can do to their houses or their offices. It was very much off-the-shelf technology — just doing stuff that anyone can do,” Halley said.

A couple of the improvements were a little more unique, including the six solar tubes installed in city hall’s roof to provide natural lighting. Halley also highlighted a solar fan installed in the roof of a wastewater pumping station.

“They just get broiling hot in the summer and any time wastewater people have to go out there it’s just unbearable, so we found these solar-powered fans. They sit on top, and when the sun shines it ventilates,” he said.

Much of the work was completed by local companies: Live Wire Electric, Zehr Electric and Jagen Plumbing and Heating.

Work got under way in January 2011 with installation of a new furnace at the waterworks. New lighting at the library was the next priority, and progress on the project continued through the fall.

Some of the plans changed along the way. Due to stipulations on federal funding, solar heating and a cover for the indoor municipal pool had to be eliminated. Halley said solar heating for the rec center showers was then considered, but ultimately found to have a poor payback.
Finding improvements with the shortest payback period was one goal of the project, Halley said.

“I feel really good about this project just in terms of the fiscal side of it — really making the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Halley said Alliant Energy actually anticipates greater annual savings than the conservative 10 percent he used to calculate the payback period.

He also sees all of the work done thus far as just the first step — the next may be renewable energy projects, such as a large scale wind project: one of the objectives inFairfield’s go-green strategic plan.

“The city’s done its work and now we want to encourage citizens and businesses to follow suit,” Halley also said.

Alliant Energy’s Hometown Rewards Program works with cities to “enhance energy efficiency across the entire community,” he said. Sustainability coordinator Scott Timm will spearhead the program, kicking off in April.

Halley said a key aspect will be education, including informing consumers of the Alliant Energy rebates available to them. He also hopes to see an “energy audit blitz” that would provide free energy audits to half the town happen.

The end reward for meeting program goals is roughly $18,000 toward a renewable energy project, which Halley said with likely be photovoltaic panels on the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center or city hall.