Energy savings pay off
Niagara Falls, N.Y., has implemented an energy performance project to upgrade municipally owned facilities. The $7.8 million project, which includes numerous retrofits of lighting systems and repairs to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, is expected to pay for itself in 10 years.
Perched on the cliffs above one of America’s most spectacular tourist attractions, Niagara Falls, N.Y., a city of 55,000 residents, is located on the eastern banks of the Niagara River. Despite the falls’ awesome beauty, their forceful flow has been known to wreak havoc on municipal infrastructure.
Such was the case at the city’s wastewater treatment facility, which for years had been battling groundwater infiltration from a leaky underground tunnel. The tunnel spewed 5 million gallons of groundwater into the treated wastewater daily, forcing the city to operate two pumping stations to manage the flow and to use additional chemicals to treat the millions of gallons of mixed water.
While repairs to the tunnel were imminent, the city did not have the $1.76 million to pay for them. In 1999, the city signed a performance contract with Cincinnati-based Vestar, a division of Cinergy Corp., to repair the tunnel and to implement energy-saving projects throughout the city that would save money that could pay for the tunnel repairs. “We had been plagued with the problem at the wastewater treatment facility for many years,” says Rick Roll, environmental engineer of wastewater treatment for Niagara Falls. “We knew how to fix it, but we didn’t know how we were going to pay for it. That was where the idea for performance contracting proved to be beneficial for us. This option allowed us to basically pay for the improvements with the avoided energy costs.”
The contractor assessed all city facilities to determine what improvements could be made to save energy and concluded that 30 facilities needed repairs, including the city’s Fall Street Tunnel, the 77-year-old library and City Hall. The contractor estimated that the combination of projects would save more than $875,000 in annual energy costs.
To repair the tunnel, the contractor patched holes to decrease the amount of water flowing into the facility, which allowed the city to turn off one pumping station. “This improvement allowed the base pump to operate at a higher speed and, thus, be more efficient,” Roll says.
Once the tunnel was repaired in 2001, the contractor began replacing old heating and air conditioning systems and boilers in city facilities, installing new building automation systems and windows, installing more energy-efficient lighting systems, improving water conservation and reducing air infiltration into municipal buildings, including the 90,000-square-foot public library. The library repairs were completed later that year. “Prior to the improvements, I was dealing with complaints from guests almost weekly because of the poor lighting system,” says Betty Barbanoury, library director. “Many older people had difficulty reading the titles of books because the lighting was so dim. I feel a lot better now that these problems have been addressed.”
In addition to improving facilities, the contractor introduced an education program to teach employees how to save energy. “What this project did was not only provide new, more efficient equipment but also the necessary training and education to maintain energy efficiency and utility savings,” says Ashok Kapur, city engineer. “These measures are long-term and are done with the city’s future in mind. This was just the right thing for us to do as a municipality. It never made sense for us to waste our precious natural resources on inefficient buildings. Our resources are too vital to our economy; not just in this region, but the nation as a whole.”
Since the energy-improvement projects began, the city has saved 8,205,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity and has eliminated 15,065,223 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually through 2003. Last year, the city saved $598,009 in utility costs. As the project and savings continue, the city will complete building renovations, including adding a third-floor art gallery to the library.