Bond to help reel in energy costs

ALPENA – Energy costs and the price of maintaining Alpena County facility’s energy systems have put a large strain on the budget for some time. Many of the building’s furnaces, boilers, light fixtures and control units are obsolete and don’t offer the cost saving benefits as some of the new technology on the market today.

On Tuesday the board of commissioners took a large step to rectify the problem. After spending years of making temporary fixes on the equipment and shelling out large amounts of money in energy costs, the county agreed to take out a 15-year, $1.6 million bond to pay for the facilities heating, cooling and lighting systems brought up to today’s standards.

The process began about 18 months ago when Maintenance Superintendent Wes Wilder approached the commissioners with information about Ameresco, a company that provides a complete study of the county’s energy ecosystem, makes a recommendation on what upgrades can be made and what the potential savings could be. Ameresco is so sure of its findings it will repay the county the balance of any costs that exceed its $105,000 a year savings estimate, if the county’s utility use stays as it has for the last three years. The county was sold on the plan and now installation of the new equipment will begin in June, be completed in September and save the county money right away.

“They have guaranteed that if 100 percent of the projected savings aren’t reached, they will cut a check to us for the difference,” Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said. “That is based on the three year average of our consumption rate. They did a three-year energy audit and that is what they based their numbers on. If we stay where we are now they will pay us if the savings aren’t what they promised.”

VanWormer said some improvements have been made in a couple of the facilities because of a previous bond, which the county has $300,000 left to pay on. He said the other repairs and fixes made have been nothing more than Band Aids on larger issues and a full upgrade was needed in order to cut costs and prevent the infrastructure from ultimately failing as the equipment continues to age.

One of the largest problems historically has been the heating and ventilation system at Plaza Pool. Some repairs have been made, but the long-term solution only comes with a complete overhaul. VanWormer said the deal with Ameresco may benefit the pool more than any of the other buildings.

“We were going to have to do something at the pool anyway no matter what. The furnace is that big of an issue,” VanWormer said. “With this the pool will get a brand new furnace, new systems put in both locker rooms, and an H-VAC system for air and humidity removal. All the pumps and controls which regulate how many gallons per minute are pumped will be installed. Once that is put in, it should last for a very long time.”

The county is working on lowering its high demand charge at the fairgrounds from Alpena Power Company and Ameresco said it would not guarantee overruns at the fairgrounds because it would only take on small mechanical malfunctions and the cost would be too high.

“To use those generators two weeks out of the year it would cost too much to put in the size we would need,” VanWormer said. “If any little thing were to go wrong you could lose a year’s worth of savings very quickly. Ameresco said the investment would just be too risky for only two weeks out of the year, so we left that out of the picture.”

The annual payment on the bond is $107,000 and the energy savings of $105,000 will almost cover it. He said the numbers Ameresco provided were conservative, so the savings could be larger and cover the full bond payment and maybe a portion of the previous bond as well.

During the meeting the commissioners voted 8-0 to move forward with the Ameresco agreement and for the bond to pay for it. Besides the pool, there will be work done at the jail, the airport, the annex building, Family Independence Agency, Northern Lights Arena and the courthouse.

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