Saturday, May 10, 2008

Would audit result in energy savings?

more government stories...you get sick of writing six meeting stories in a week though...

Would audit result in energy savings?
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Natural gas wells at the Orland airport.

Wind turbines at the county landfill.

Those were the top two possible improvements under consideration Tuesday as supervisors debated whether to accept a proposed Chevron “energy audit” to reduce electricity bills.

The audit would identify projects that could pay for themselves with energy savings.

The county would save more money the longer the equipment lasted; supervisors were concerned that it wouldn’t last as long as projected.

“The financing period is generally shorter than the lifespan of the equipment,” said planning and public works director Dan Obermeyer, who presented the proposal.

“It’s the ‘generally’ part that scares me,” replied supervisor Tracey Quarne.

The $40,000 fee would be waived if no feasible projects were found. That didn’t placate director of finance Don Santoro, a skeptic of the idea.

“The board is at the mercy at this contractor, who tells us what is feasible,” Mr. Santoro said. “It’s not a contract I would personally sign. The contract needs to protect the county.”

Chevron business development manager Ashu Jain said he’d be happy to have the county judge feasibility.

“We have five people, and this is our third visit,” he said. “We’re going to spend a lot more than $40,000.”

“We’re not interested in an audit. We’re interested in a project.”

The $40,000 fee would only be paid upfront if the Chevron engineers found a viable project and the county didn’t want to built it. That’s a big deal in a tight budget year.

The project would be financed over the long run, avoiding such issues. For example, if a piece of equipment cost $2 million, it might be financed at $140,000 over 20 years. The county would save money if equipment held out for 20 years, and cut electric bills by more than $140,000 per year.

In order for a project to be feasible, Mr. Obermeyer would require projected savings at costs plus 25 percent – in that example, $175,000 per year. That would guard against incorrect projection, he said.

Mr. Quarne was also concerned about giving up gas rights at the airport, pointing out they could be valuable.

After a half-an-hour slugfest of debate, the board decided more research was needed and tabled the matter for further consideration May 20.

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