State energy audit shows potential savings

An energy audit of Alaska public facilities uncovered some of the most, and least, energy-efficient buildings in the state. The study, conducted by Alaska Housing Finance Corp., evaluated 327 investment grade audits performed on public facilities.

The study estimates there are 5,000 public buildings in Alaska, spending more than $641 million on energy every year. If appropriate measures are taken, the study calculates a potential energy cost savings of $125 million yearly to the state.

An investment grade audit examines a building's energy use history, design, location and includes a cost-benefit analysis of options to make the building more energy efficient, according to Nathan Wiltse, a project manager and building energy economist for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

It found Anchorage School District buildings have an average energy use index, or EUI, of 121,000 British thermal units per square-foot per year, which makes them much less efficient than those of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which averaged 70,000 EUI.

This is despite Fairbanks being in a much colder climate. Factoring in climate differences, the gap between the two widens.

Mike Abbott, assistant superintendant of support services for ASD, agreed that the numbers show a clear gap in heating efficiency between the districts, but said that doesn't tell the whole story.

"The comparison with (FNSB) is useful, in that it definitely will help us identify opportunities for further improvement, but because of the way the analysis was conducted it might lead you to believe we use twice as much energy per square-foot as Fairbanks, and that's not necessarily the case," Abbott said.

He noted that a disparity in the number of school buildings in Anchorage and FNSB could account for at least part of the energy-use difference. Abbott said about 30 schools were audited in each district, accounting for roughly 75 percent of schools in FNSB and only 25 percent in ASD, leading to a partially complete data set.

Wiltse, who helped prepare the data, concurred. He also said FNSB schools had a "tight range" of EUIs providing a reliable average and Anchorage schools had a "very wide range," possibly skewing the final average.

Despite using less energy in the audited buildings, FNSB still pays more for it, at a cost of $2.38 per square-foot per year, compared to ASD at $1.92. This is due to much higher fuel prices in Interior Alaska.

The report comes at a time when ASD is facing large budget shortfalls. The district recently announced plans to cut or leave vacant 100 administrative and support positions, saving about $4 million.

Abbott said the district has an incentive-based program already in place in which schools can reduce energy bills over the prior year and receive a check for 25 percent of the savings. That money then goes directly into the school's supply budget. The program usually returns money to about 20 schools a year, Abbott said.

Ord said the audits were done with specific criteria in mind.

"This is a biased, non-random sample of public buildings. We chose the higher energy users and the ones that had a higher square-footage to them," said Jimmy Ord, AHFC's energy program information manager. "The audits were focused on some of the high energy users to identify some of the problems and where we could make our buildings more efficient."

The report, funded by 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars, provides "benchmarking data" that had not been available before, Ord said.

The study makes more than 50 recommendations for increasing energy efficiency.Abbott says ASD is evaluating all of the findings and will move forward with proposals to the school board on how to improve its energy efficiency within a few weeks.

Alaska Journal of Commerce