C & G Staff Writer
Four years into a project to help the city operate in a more energy-efficient manner, officials are happy to be making Ferndale a greener place — and saving a big chunk of change in the process.
On June 22, the Ferndale City Council heard a presentation from Siemens Building Technologies, in which company representatives noted that in the past four years, the project has saved the city more than $347,000 in energy costs, including about $102,000 in 2008.
During that period, Ferndale’s municipal facilities have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 31 percent. According to Public Works Director Byron Photiades, the city has also reduced fossil fuel consumption by an amount equal to removing 343 cars for one year.
“In the past, we were spending so much money repairing our old (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems — that’s where the majority of our energy costs were going,” he explained. “We needed to find another way to do it where we could be more efficient and reduce our carbon footprint. So far, it’s been a win-win for us.”
In 2004, the city contracted Siemens to replace obsolete and inefficient HVAC equipment and lighting systems in all municipal buildings, to retrofit 25 traffic signals with LED lamps and to install pedestrian countdown timers at prominent road intersections.
The $984,000 cost, Photiades said, is being paid over a 15-year period through guaranteed energy and operational savings by Siemens. At the pace that has been established during the first four years, however, the city’s savings are poised to easily surpass that principal expense should the equipment reach its minimum estimated shelf life of 15 years.
Photiades pointed out that with this project, Ferndale is also one of five cities in Michigan to be recognized by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth for its energy efficiency.
According to City Councilman Scott Galloway, “This is a perfect example of smart management of the city’s resources. Sometimes you have to invest some money in order to realize the long-term benefits of a project like this. … We realized that we could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run, plus the added benefit of being better for the environment.”
Galloway added that at the time the project was approved, Ferndale had recently become a member of the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities — in which municipalities make a commitment to help reduce the effects of global warming — and city officials were trying to live up to the promises they had made to that organization. For that reason, he said, the project was “a really easy sell” to a council looking to be on the cutting edge of environmentally friendly initiatives.
At the June 22 meeting, the council also unanimously approved a partnership with DTE Energy to install and test six LED lights in the western portion of the public parking lot on Withington Street. The pilot project covers an initial term of three years at a cost to the city of about $4,000; the new lights will reportedly save the city a projected $515 annually.
These types of ventures, said City Manager Bob Bruner, are a great way for the city to put its money where its mouth is in trying to become a greener community.
“The bottom line is that we save more money in energy conservation each year than what it costs us to make those payments,” he said. “It’s a one-time expense, but an annual cost savings. … And the savings end up paying for the capital improvements, so it’s really a no-brainer for us.”
In addition, Bruner said that he plans to suggest to the council that the city apply for federal stimulus money — via the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program— to go toward future energy conservation projects.
For Galloway, Ferndale’s pursuit of green initiatives like this has enabled the city to become more environmentally friendly while also staying ahead of the curve financially during very difficult economic times.
“Five years ago when we first approved this project,” he said, “no one ever envisioned $4 or $5 for a gallon of gasoline or the level of energy crisis that we’re seeing now. We could never have anticipated how much money we would be saving because of that. But it’s this kind of forward thinking that has put us in better shape than some of our neighbors.”