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Town Council nixes ESCO project

June 6, 2012

WCRPC Executive Director Jeff Broadhead attempted to persuade the Pier Council to consider the ESCO project, which was ultimately turned down by a vote of 3-2.

NARRAGANSETT—The Town Council failed a motion Monday evening which would have addressed the town’s energy saving needs through the Energy Services Company project (ESCO). The initiative was organized by The Washington County Regional Planning Council (WCRPC) and Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), an energy evaluation company, who completed an audit of town facilities, assessing their energy efficiency and identifying potential areas for cost savings.

After completion of its audit in January, JCI presented the Town Council with buildings which they examined, namely Town Hall, the Towers, the garage at the Department of Public Works, and the Waste Water office, and the possibility of varying levels of energy savings. Some buildings, such as the Town Hall, would benefit from larger energy savings such as boiler replacements, but other improvements might have been as simple as using more energy efficient light bulbs.

“We started this process almost two years ago now, as part of the WCRPC’s program, which began as a rather ambitious project,” said Town Engineer Jeffry Ceasrine in April. “Once JCI was brought on board, they started building by building audits.”

“It took a long time to get to this stage, but that is just the nature of the beast, and the projects on the list make sense,” he added. “Boiler conversions, pipe insulation, ceiling insulation, they are all common sense. All in all, I think it is a worthy project.”

Town department heads from Community Development, Engineering, and Public Works were available Monday evening to detail the merits of the project for the Town Council, all of which had a hand in developing as cost-effective and energy efficient plan as possible for the town. Councilman Christopher Wilkens expressed his support for savings provided through ESCO as well.

“I think this project makes a lot of sense,” said Wilkens. “I weigh very heavily staff recommendations, and almost every department head has been involved. It is a strong recommendation that we go ahead and do this.”

JCI estimated that the up front construction cost to the town for energy improvements would be $1,091,658, and the audit itself held a price tag of $9,488. A number of other expenses, such as WCRPC’s project coordination fee and the cost for utility service connections, brought the total dollar figure which the town would have to pay initially to $1,265,472. Town Council President Glenna Hagopian supported the project conceptually, but did not feel comfortable with paying initial expenses and accepting long payback period.

“I was still struggling to wrap my mind around the duration of the payback, and the fact we could do things on our own,” said Town Council President Glenna Hagopian. “I know the staff has said that [the ESCO project] would make work easier to do, but I am struggling with the math part of this.”

Director of Public Works David Ousterhout spoke about the process to which town officials committed in order to provide the best possible scenario for energy upgrades in town buildings.

“Staff did meet with Town Manager [Grady Miller] following the last meeting and discussed the idea of paring down the project list to a smaller number,” said Ousterhout. “Unfortunately, the big dollar items are the critical ones, and the little dollar items, those which have the most positive influence on the payback period, are the ones that would have to be cut.”

“It is kind of a compromise,” he added. “We have spent months focusing in on what’s really important, and then having a unified project where you put it all together. It adds value to the town.”

An important driver for the ESCO program’s implementation was that the projected energy savings will allow for the project to be self-funding. JCI would guarantee that their calculations of energy savings for town facilities will be met and, if the town did not accrue the said amount of savings over a period of time, JCI would reimburse the town with the difference.

JCI projected first year energy savings at town facilities to be $80,099, and determined that full payback of program costs will be completed in approximately 13.5 years of energy savings. Town Engineer Jeffry Ceasrine stated after the motion to support the ESCO project failed that a number of the larger projects that need to be implemented, such as a new boiler in the high school, would eventually be done by the town on its own.

The motion failed three to two, with nays from Council members Alisa Trainor-Fleet, David Crook, and Hagopian. Because the project was rejected, the town must now repay JCI $6,763.19 for its audit services.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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