AUGUSTA — City officials are considering seeking out energy efficiency upgrades that could include small jet engine-like microturbines to help both heat and power several city buildings.

City councilors meet Thursday to consider spending $58,000 to hire consultants to study the potential for energy efficiency upgrades at Hartford Fire Station, City Center, Augusta Civic Center, Lithgow Public Library, the Western Avenue fire station, Buker Community Center, and public works and police department buildings.

Officials said their goals are to upgrade energy systems in city buildings and also save enough money to more than pay for the upgrades.

“Our intention is to pay for all the upgrades from the energy savings,” said Bob LaBreck, facilities and systems manager for the city.

The consultants would study which upgrades would work best in each of the city buildings, estimate how much they could save, and propose ways the city could pay for them.

The upgrades to be looked into will include switching boilers at multiple sites to ones capable of heating with natural gas, solar power and heating systems, ways to conserve water, and microturbines.

A microturbine, according to LaBreck, is like a small jet engine, in this case likely ignited by natural gas, which rotates and turns a mini-generator to produce electricity.

That process creates heat, so the microturbine would be cooled by water running through it. And that heated water would be used to help heat the buildings.

“It’s a combined heat and power unit,” LaBreck said. “It creates heat, as it creates power for you.”

LaBreck said the microturbines would not produce enough power or heat to be the only source of heat or electricity. Instead, they would work with other systems in city buildings. He said a microturbine planned to be installed at City Center — part of a similar and already planned phase of energy efficiency improvements — is expected to produce about half the electricity needed for the building.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, microturbines offer a number of potential advantages over other technologies for small-scale power generation, including their small number of moving parts, compact size, greater efficiency and lower emissions. With waste heat recovery, they can achieve more than 80 percent efficiency, according to the federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

A similar previous study recommended energy efficiency improvements that the city is currently having installed. The city is borrowing about $2 million to improve the energy efficiency of the Augusta Civic Center, Augusta City Center, and Buker Community Center. The changes are estimated to save the city $83,000 a year, or $1.7 million over the next 20 years, including the cost of paying back the debt.

The $58,000 for the study, which would come from the city’s unassigned fund balance account, would be rolled into the cost of the energy efficiency upgrade project, if officials approve upgrades. The city would still be responsible for paying for the study even if it does not do the upgrades, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

Councilors are scheduled to consider authorizing Bridgeo to contract with a team of consultants to be overseen by New England Energy Solutions for the energy efficiency upgrade study at their meeting Thursday, which begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• Take a final vote on designating the music room at Cony High School as the permanent polling place for Ward 4;

• consider adopting the new Communications and Social Media Policy;

• hear a presentation on A Capital Read 2013 by Library Director Elizabeth Pohl; and

• consider appointing Heather Veilleux to the Planning Board.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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