Energy study completed; county moves forward

ALPENA – Last year the Alpena County Board of Commissioners hired Ameresco to do a study of the county’s facilities to see what improvements could be made to make them more energy efficient and cost affective. During Tuesday’s commisioner’s meeting Diane Mills presented a report from Ameresco that detailed what improvements are recommended, the cost and the projected savings.

In all, the work would cost the county $1,644,911, but could save it about $105,092 a year in utility costs. Mills said if the county does not experience the savings, the company would pay the county the difference in the bill.

Ameresco combed through the annex building, courthouse, Northern Lights Arena, Plaza Pool and the fairgrounds checking boilers, air conditioners, lights and windows to see what changes could be implemented and savings made. Recommendations were made for the fairgrounds, but because the county could receive a demand charge from the power company for the electricity used, Ameresco said it did not include it in the agreement and would not guarantee a payback if savings were not met for it.

Commissioner Cam Habermehl said there are things that need to be fixed whether the county continues forward with Ameresco or not. He said he thinks it is better to move forward now because getting everything done at one time would be the most beneficial option for the county and its budget.

“I think this needs to be done as soon as possible. The quicker we get it done the quicker we can enjoy the savings,” Habermehl said. “If we don’t, there are still things we are going to have to do. The furnace at the pool is 40 years old and doesn’t have a good control system and we are going to have to change that no matter what. That is $200,000 alone and probably needs to be done by the fall. It is just creeping along right now. I don’t think we can really wait to do this.”

Commissioner Tom Mullaney said every month that goes by that improvements aren’t made are months the county is wasting money it could be using elsewhere. He said it was important to the board desire to move forward that Ameresco has agreed to pay the county if the promised savings are not met.

“If we don’t do it, it will obviously cost us more money and we will still have issues to address,” Mullaney said. “I really don’t see how we can’t go along with this. It really is a can’t lose proposition. The fact they are willing to pay us if the savings aren’t met was a huge selling point.”

Mullaney said he also is pleased Ameresco has pledged to make changes to the plan should the county close or build a new facility. He said the savings could go up or down if either were to happen and even though it is unlikely right now, down the road things could change.

“It is nice to know the plan can be readjusted,” Mullaney said. “You never know what is going to happen in the future.”

The commissioners voted to move forward with the project, pending an opinion from its attorney on what is the best way to fund it. Habermehl and Mullaney said bonding the project for 10 or 15 years seems like the most prudent way to pay for it.

Habermehl said there are several ways to pay for the project, including borrowing money out the revolving fund or seeking a private investor, but bonding seems like the best fit. He said he would like to be able to pay the money back as soon as possible because if payments are dragged out for too long some of the new equipment could begin to fail. Habermehl said the county already has a commitment for $110,000 from the Alpena County Youth & Recreation Committee to help fund a project at the pool, so that could be applied to the overall cost of the project.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.