Buildings Randy Washburn shows off Itasca county's new energy management controls

Published on November 20th, 2012 | by Dan Thiede, CERTs


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November 20th, 2012 by  

Randy Washburn has a knack for how things operate. Although he has only been Supervisor of Itasca County’s Facilities Management Office for five years, he has made a huge impact. Washburn has a good understanding of the constraints of the county’s energy budget. This is why he started asking questions in 2009, and since then, he has not stopped.

Washburn wanted to know how much it was costing the county to heat, cool, and power its municipal facilities. In 2009, he worked with several members of the Energy Services Group (ESG) to gather the necessary data. With that information, Washburn invited ESG to design a proposal to reduce wasted heat, cooling, and electricity in county buildings, which would in turn save county capital. This eventually led to a formal proposal from ESG in 2010.

Randy Washburn shows off Itasca county's new energy management controls

Randy Washburn shows off Itasca county’s new energy management controls.

The proposal was set up as a performance contract between the county and ESG. Performance contracts dictate the outcomes of a project, but not the methods, so that the contractor has the flexibility to address the project in the best way he sees fit. This meant that potential saved capital (due to efficiency upgrades) could be reinvested in additional efficiency projects in the future. The contract was signed and operations began in 2011. Due to excellent financing by the County Auditor, Jeff Walker, the payback on the investment was reduced from a predicted 15 years to just 12.

Washburn and his team found funding from the Minnesota Department of Commerce in the form of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funding.

At the present time, this team has spent almost $3.5 million dollars implementing the following cost-saving energy-efficiency projects:

  • Improved lighting
  • Tightened envelope
  • Energy management controls
  • Insulation of windows and doors
  • Intermittent power utility rate
  • HVAC

Washburn says many of his work friends ask him, “When will you be done with that energy project?” What his friends don’t realize is that achieving energy efficiency is a lengthy process that requires multiple building upgrades. However, Washburn is quick to point out that they can have a huge impact on how a building functions. Upgrades save valuable energy and space; Washburn’s current office is a small room that once held one of five HVAC units that used to be the building he works in. Since the system was upgraded, only one HVAC unit is needed. This will add up to savings not only due to increased HVAC efficiency, but also the saved maintenance costs that comes from caring for one unit instead of five.

Washburn hopes to share their success with schools, businesses, and other public entities in the region. With fewer HVAC units and better efficiency, it is clear that there is a growing commitment to energy efficiency in Itasca County municipal buildings.

EECBG Project Snapshot:

  • Project Activities: Upgrade digital direct control (DDC) equipment; Recommission existing DDC; Reprogram control loops; install wireless thermostats; Recommission pneumatic controls; Repair/replace valves on air handling unit
  • Total Cost: $312,529

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

Local Government Energy ActionThis year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts in order to inspire others to take their own actions. See all stories in this series >>

Local Government Energy Action is brought to you by the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources.

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About the Author

is the Communications Coordinator for the Clean Energy Resource Teams, or CERTs, at the University of Minnesota. CERTs works to advance the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in communities across Minnesota by helping people learn, connect, and act.

  • wattleberry

    The only caveat that I haven’t seen in any of these estimable schemes is ventilation which, given the much touted concern over the pollution from the 3,000 or so chemicals exuded in the typical home by its contents, is paramount. How can that be achieved without introducing cold ambient air and having to heat it to room temperature?

    • djthiede

      Great comment. One thing that I have heard some people talking about is using solar air heat (solar furnace) for pre-heating ventilation makeup air in larger buildings. From what I’ve heard, it could more or less eliminate the need to heat the air with fossil fuels, even here in chilly Minnesota. If you wanted to learn more, I know that Jason Edens at Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) would be happy to tell you what they’ve learned:

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