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September 2009

by Laylan Copelin

New Money for Conservation

“We changed the lighting in the courthouse and jail. Now we’re saving $10,000 a month.”

— Tyner Little,
government relations director,
Nueces County

State energy program
gets stimulus funding.

Nueces County is back for more.

More energy-efficiency money, that is.

Over the past 17 years, the Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) has made more than 200 loans to cities, counties, universities, school districts and state agencies to help them cut their energy bills.

Now, thanks to the federal stimulus law, SECO has $290.2 million to spend on its State Energy Program over the next three years — quite a boost over the $2.3 million it typically has available each year.

Public entities, including repeat SECO customers such as Nueces County, are lining up to apply.

Nueces County officials are pursuing a $2.5 million loan to improve energy efficiency in their courthouse and jail as well as a competitive grant to construct a wind farm to generate electricity at the county fairgrounds.

Energy Conservation Can
Pay for Itself

How quickly can savings on utility bills repay an organization’s costs for conservation projects? Here are some answers from the State Energy Conservation Office:

ProjectsPayback (Years)
Equipment tune-ups3.3
Energy management controls4.8
High-efficiency heating/ air conditioning/ventilation7.8
High-efficiency lighting4.6
Building shell (insulation, window film, etc.)5.1
Water efficiency (low-flow plumbing, etc.)6.1

Source: State Energy Conservation Office

“We’re focused on energy efficiency,” says Tyner Little, the county’s government relations director. “We’re trying to get 5 percent more efficient every year.”

Texas is the largest energy-consuming state, so an emphasis on conservation is good for the environment. But for most officials, it’s about saving taxpayer money.

“Three years ago, we changed the lighting in the courthouse and jail,” Little says. “Now we’re saving $10,000 a month.”

Nueces County borrowed $1.1 million from SECO to retrofit several county buildings. Now the county will be applying for money to install electronic thermostats and other energy-saving equipment.

Little says a recent energy audit estimated the county could shave more than $200,000 from its $1.2 million annual electric bill with more efficient equipment for its courthouse and jail.

“We’re blowing hot and cold air in here at the same time to keep the climate right,” Little says. “It’s hot in one office and cold in another. It’s an energy-inefficiency nightmare.”

Spending Money to Save Energy

The State Energy Conservation Office is receiving $290.2 million from the federal stimulus legislation to support conservation projects around the state. Here’s how the money will be spent:

Purpose Funding (millions)
Loans to retrofit buildings$158.2
Renewable energy $30.0
Transportation efficiency $17.0
Grants to cities, counties $45.6
Consumer education $5.0
Appliance rebates $23.3
Other $11.1
TOTAL $290.2

Source: State Energy Conservation Office

Conservation is good for the environment. But for most officials, it’s about saving taxpayer money.

The bulk of SECO’s $290.2 million (about $158.2 million) is for low interest loans to be repaid with savings from energy bills. Without a loan, Little says Nueces County couldn’t consider the project.

“We don’t have the cash flow to do a huge project like this,” he says.

The remainder of the stimulus funding will be split between traffic synchronization, renewable energy for electric generation, alternative-fuel vehicles, equipment to train technicians and consumer education. FN

Learn more about SECO’s programs, including deadlines for applying, sign up for e-mail alerts.

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