Energy project saving the county big bucks

Keith Strange Staff Reporter

September 18, 2013

DOBSON — Imagine being able to upgrade energy efficiency measures in a home free of charge.

Surry County has done just that in multiple properties, and the improved equipment and cost-saving measures already are reaping rewards.

Updating the Surry County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night on a Guaranteed Energy Savings Contract, county officials said that although the project has been online for just a few months, the county already has saved more than $62,000 in utility costs.

According to Surry County Facilities Director Don Mitchell, the project has been in the works for years.

“During a county manager’s meeting in Raleigh a few years ago, a representative from (international energy services company) Johnson Controls approached (then county manager) Dennis Thompson and he asked me to look into it. We first met with a representative in 2009 and that’s when things got started,” said Mitchell.

That first meeting led to an intense audit of the county’s buildings and utility infrastructure, which in turn yielded a three-inch book of planned improvements.

And the improvements aren’t costing the county a penny, since the county is on track to save more than enough to cover the $1 million, 15-year contract.

“Johnson Controls guarantees that if we make certain changes we’ll save enough in energy costs to pay for the new equipment. We’re not having to take money out of the general fund to pay for the equipment because the savings will pay for it and they guarantee it. If we come up short, they write the county a check to pay for the difference.”

“We signed a contract with the company, and they guarantee that if we do what they suggest we’ll save enough money to cover the contract,” said County Finance Director Betty Taylor.

And the new, energy-efficient improvements run the gamut from replacing old boilers and chillers, to installing solar panels on the roof of the county judicial center, to converting old fuel-oil and propane heating systems to cheaper, more efficient natural gas.

“We had some fairly old and outdated infrastructure, including a former coal-fired boiler that was circa 1954,” Mitchell said.

Following the audit, Johnson Controls put together a plan to calculate what needed to be done and how much money could be saved with each improvement.

“One of the easiest things was the lighting,” Mitchell said. “We replaced all the outdated lighting in every building because it was the quickest payback to fund other projects. We had some big-ticket items like replacing boilers and converting from fuel oil to propane in three different buildings — the government center, health department and the cooperative extension building.”

Those improvements are starting to pay off, Mitchell said.

“In the six-month period from Feb. 1 through the end of August, we’ve saved $62,025,” he said. “During the 18-month installation period that ended on Feb. 1, we saved an additional $95,510.”

Mitchell said he has been a proponent of the initiative since day one.

“I was sold on it soon after we started talking about it, because I could get much-needed equipment while generating enough savings to pay for it. I really think this is a good project,” he said. “It’s been years in the making, but the payoff will be realized by the county for a long time.

“And it really isn’t costing the county anything,” Mitchell added.

Reach Keith Strange at or 719-1929.