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Audit 'first big step' to cutting Portland energy costs, emissions

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Audit 'first big step' to cutting Portland energy costs, emissions

PORTLAND — Experts are currently conducting energy audits of more than 50 city and school buildings with the goal of reducing Portland's carbon footprint and energy costs.

Solid Waste Manager Troy Moon, who is overseeing the project, said auditors from Massachusetts-based Ameresco Associates have been installing devices to monitor mechanical and electrical functions in the city's 51 buildings. 

Moon said the data loggers are the first step of a multi-phase project. Moon said the city expects to receive a preliminary report by the end of May, along with several recommendations. The audit will look at everything from heating and air-conditioning units to roofs to windows to toilets. 

The preliminary assessment will essentially be a spreadsheet of the city's facilities and a list of recommended improvements. It will also include projected savings and when the city can expect a return on its investment. Once that's complete, Moon said, city staff will pick several projects to move forward and a more in-depth engineering process will take place.

Moon said the city will move quickly to begin making energy upgrades.

"Once we get the final report we expect the work to begin shortly thereafter," he said. "This is the first big step to make an impact. By doing this energy retrofit, we can make this biggest single dent in the energy budget and emissions."

Moon said the city secured Ameresco's energy auditing services for $160,000. The performance-based contract essentially guarantees that the city will realized the savings outlined in the recommendations, and the city will pay for the audit with the savings realized by the upgrades. 

Moon said he believes the city could realize significant savings by making the necessary upgrades. City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city spends about $8 million on energy, citing the 2005 costs when oil was $110 a barrel. 

"The city spends a great deal of money on energy use," Moon said. "We certainly have an older building stock. Our staff has done a lot of work where they can to change light bulbs and be efficient that way, but there are definitely a lot of opportunities."

In 2008, the City Council endorsed a Municipal Climate Action Plan, highlighting the need for a comprehensive energy audit of city facilities. The plan indicates that Portland will be unable to reduce energy usage until the audit is completed.

According to the report, 59 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from the government sector comes from inefficient buildings, while only 13 percent comes from vehicles. The report also indicates that the Boston Housing Authority was able to finance $50 million in capital improvements through a performance-based contract like the one signed by Portland.

Moon said that any construction projects resulting from the energy audit will be put out to bid for local contractors, since Ameresco is not encumbered by work agreements with out-of-state companies.

"That was one of the highlights of their proposal," Moon said. "It will be a great opportunity for some local contractors to get some work."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.