South Portland moves toward energy audit of city buildings

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Officials are taking steps to hire a firm to conduct an energy audit of municipal buildings, an effort that is already underway in city schools. 

The city has a municipal building stock that ranges from City Hall, built in 1898, to the facility at Wainright Farms, built in 2002.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the audit will cover all 14 buildings owned by the city, including the newer ones.

“What was efficient 10 years ago, might not be efficient today,” Gailey said.

Gailey said the city has tackled the “low-hanging fruit” to increase efficiency, like changing light fixtures. Now, he said, an in-depth technical review is needed.

“I really don’t know what’s out there for inefficiencies in our buildings,” Gailey said. “This will be an A-to-Z review. I can just imagine what our buildings will come up with because of their age.”

According to the city’s request for qualifications, the primary goal is to reduce energy and water consumption associated with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; lighting; building envelope; domestic hot water systems and other energy devices.

The city, which will not pay any up-front costs for the audit, has set a Jan. 14 deadline for proposals from companies that perform energy audits, with City Council approval proposed for March. The proposed timeline would have the city buildings audited by June, with a final report submitted in July.

The City Council could vote on the recommendations in July and the company could begin council-approved upgrades in August.

Gailey said the city audit would be similar to one currently underway for the school system.

Greg Marles, director of school buildings and grounds, said auditors from Falmouth-based Seimens Building Technologies have already conducted a walk-through of the School Department’s nine buildings, including the high school and Hamlin School, at the corner of Cottage Road and Sawyer Street.

Marles said the firm will conduct an in-depth investigation of each building, examining their envelopes, insulation, roofs and the like, in addition to installing data recorders on mechanical systems and analyzing utility bills.

Marles said a final audit report is scheduled to be presented to the School Board in April or May.

Once the city and schools have their final audit reports, it will be up to each to decide what scope of work, if any, to move forward with.

Payment for installing upgrades would come from projected every savings, which will be guaranteed by the firm. But if the district does not hire the firm to make improvements, Marles said the audit will cost $35,000.

“Typically, you wouldn’t go into a contract like that with the intent of not doing any of the recommended upgrades,” he said.

Using a hypothetical example, Marles said that if the schools decide to have the firm install a new boiler for $100,000, and the company guaranteed the school would save $10,000 a year as a result, those savings would be paid to the firm over a period of 10 years.

Any additional savings in each of those years would be absorbed by the school district. If those savings never materialize, the company does not get paid, he said.

Seimens conducted a similar audit for the Oxford school system, Marles said. The company performed $1.6 million in upgrades to school facilities, guaranteeing a savings of $200,000 a year.

While Oxford experienced $327,000 worth of savings during its first year, Marles said there’s no guarantee that will be the case in South Portland.

“They’re getting a pretty good return, but there’s no guarantee that will happen here,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reaches at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]