AUGUSTA — The city plans to borrow about $2 million to improve the energy efficiency of three major buildings, with a goal of saving $83,000 a year, or $1.7 million over the next 20 years, including the cost of paying back the debt.

The upgrades, which include an entire exterior wall of solar hot air panels at the Augusta Civic Center, are expected to save $4.3 million in heating costs over 20 years; but $2.7 million of those savings would go to pay for the equipment and interest on the loan.

Even with the cost of the debt, however, the city expects to reap rewards immediately, with the savings beginning as soon as the gear is installed at Augusta City Center, Augusta Civic Center and Buker Community Center, as the annual savings are expected to more than pay for the cost of the projects. Those savings are based on current and projected fuel costs, including an assumption those costs will increase about 4 percent each year.

Even with the cost of the debt, however, the city expects to reap rewards immediately, with the savings beginning as soon as the gear is installed at Augusta City Center, Augusta Civic Center and Buker Community Center, as the annual savings are expected to more than pay for the cost of the projects. Those savings are based on current and projected fuel costs, including an assumption those costs will increase about 4 percent each year.

City councilors approved the proposal in a unanimous vote Thursday. The proposal originally was based largely on renewable energy systems, including the solar panels still being planned for the Augusta Civic Center and a wood-pellet boiler system proposed, but since rejected, for Buker Community Center. However, officials said as they looked at the specifics of each building and the numbers behind the proposal, they determined renewable energy solutions other than the solar panels at the civic center just wouldn’t save enough money. So the lone remaining renewable energy proposal will put 4,000 square feet of solar hot air panels on the wall of the civic center, which faces the University of Maine at Augusta and the Maine Municipal Association building.

The two other buildings’ heating systems will be converted from oil to propane, with a longer-term plan to run them on natural gas.

Two competing companies, Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, have proposed to build a natural gas pipeline from an existing pipeline in Windsor into Augusta, potentially laying pipe in the ground as soon as February. However, the work is on hold as the state considers an appeal, filed by Summit, of the state’s award of a bid to Maine Natural Gas to build a natural gas pipeline to state facilities in Augusta. At Buker Community Center, an antiquated, oil-fueled steam heating system would be replaced with an entirely new heating system, first fueled by propane but with the potential to be converted easily to natural gas if and when gas becomes available in Augusta.

Facilities Manager Bob LaBreck said the inefficient system now at Buker requires spending about $100,000 to heat the former school building. The new system is expected to halve that. At Augusta City Center, two 25-year-old cooling towers would be replaced with one new cooling tower and two oil boilers would be replaced with a new gas-fired boiler, and a micro-turbine would also be installed. The system, like the one planned at Buker, would run on propane but be able to be converted to natural gas.

LaBreck said the equipment actually comes set up for natural gas but will be switched over to run on propane until natural gas becomes available in the city, when it would be switched back over to run on gas.

“The equipment comes in natural-gas equipped; then it’s converted to propane,” LaBreck said. “So we’ll just hold on to the devices (which are needed for the equipment to run on gas) for when we switch. It’s an easy conversion.”

LaBreck said the two oil boilers that will be removed from Augusta City Center are only about five years old, so they would be used elsewhere — one as a backup at Buker, the other as a new boiler for the city’s public works facility, where it would replace a 1940s boiler.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

 

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