Curiosity and continuous improvement pay off: Weatherization fixes cut waste in Itasca County


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

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.

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 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
  • Details: Learn more with a data report from the Dept. of Commerce

Other Local Government Energy Action Weatherization Stories:

Local Government Energy Action About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

This year-long effort tells the stories of nearly 50 Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts 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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    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission