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Federally funded report provides town roadmap to energy efficiency

April 11, 2011
LITTLETON- The result of the federally funded energy audit of town buildings was presented to the Energy Conservation Committee last Thursday. Representatives from Boston-based Peregrine Energy Group and Portland-based Breakaway Energy Services relayed to the group what the town could do to improve energy efficiency and eventually save money.

"It's better to do some of it than none of it," said Peregrine Energy's Steven Weisman of the scope of the recommended project. The report included analysis of the Opera House, Community House and Annex, Fire Station, Highway Garage, and Police Department. If all recommended upgrades were undertaken, the town would have to make a capital investment of around $93,000. However, the upgrades would save the town an estimated $12,000 annually, translating into a payback of that investment in 7.7 years.

The audit was funded completely through the Energy Technical Assistance and Planning for New Hampshire Communities program, in turn funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy and Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program of the U.S. Department of Energy. Peregrine toured the town buildings last November, focusing on historical energy use; operating practices; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC); lighting; and future plans and requirements. Should the town choose to move forward with any improvements, the audit provides sufficient information to put the projects out to bid.

Weisman and Breakaway Energy's Henry Harvey identified the Opera House as the least efficient of the town buildings, but also the most difficult to report on, as there is less recent energy usage data. It is, by far, the largest of the buildings looked at, with almost 30,000 square feet and four levels. It has masonry and wood framing dating back to 1894. The lowest level houses the Historical Society museum. The second level is currently unfinished and unoccupied. The third level is composed of the Opera House venue, dressing rooms, and 1,000 square feet of offices for the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce. The fourth level remains largely unoccupied.

The engineers recommend creating better zoning and controls for the buildings, replacing incandescent lighting, and improving the thermal envelope of the building. Zone heating refers to a system where buildings are broken into different sections, or zones, in which the temperature can be controlled separately from the other sections of the building.

"This building has too few thermal zones for current use," reads the report. "Thermostats on the Union St. and top floors, located in hallways, are controlling the whole floor (except for the Opera House venue which has its own thermostat). Some rooms are overheating while others are cold. Some unused rooms and unoccupied floors are at 70 to 80 degrees."

The report recommends creating more thermal zones, installing programmable thermostats to better control the temperature, and improving control of the roof level. Creating better zoning and controls would cost around $23,000, and save the town about $2,0000 annually, making the estimated payback between 10 to 13 years. Replacing the incandescent lights with alternative compact fluorescent or LED lights would set the town back $1,400, and save about $300 per year, resulting in a four to six-year payback. Improving the thermal envelope of the building by better sealing the building and preventing air leakage would cost the town $15,000, save $2,700 annually, and take between five to six years to earn back.

The Community House and Annex come in at 12,200 square feet, and date back to 1884. For the Community House, the report recommends creating better air sealing, improving steam heating control, and weatherizing windows and doors. Air sealing would cost around $4,500, save about $900 annually, and take four to six years to earn back. Improving steam heating control would cost $7,000, save $9,000 annually, and take seven to nine years to earn back. Weatherizing would cost $14,000, save $600 annually, and take 20 or more years to earn back.

As for the Annex, air sealing and insulation would cost $7,568 to upgrade, save $400 annually, and take 18 to 20 years to earn back. Upgrading the building's lighting would cost $600, save $100 annually, and take five to seven years to earn back.

Upgrades recommended for the fire station, which occupies 6,800 square feet and was built in 1985, focus around the frequent use of the large overhead doors and the metal structure of the station, which is ideal for transmitting heat to the outside. Interlocking unit heaters with the overhead doors would automatically shut off the hot water zone pump for the garage when the doors are open. This would cost $2,100, save about $300 per year, and take between six to eight years to earn back. Installing programmable thermostats is a particularly attractive option as it would cost $600, save $500 annually, and take only a year to earn back. Installing an overhead tubular radiant heating system in the garage is a measure often used in garages with high ceilings and frequent door openings.

"They heat the workers directly while they are working, providing comfort quickly after overhead doors have been opened and closed," explains the report. "This does not require heating the thermal mass of the vehicles and building to create comfortable conditions, and does not concentrate warm air at the top of the garage as conventional systems do."

This measure would cost $11,000, save $1,800 annually, and take between five to seven years to earn back. Upgrading the lights would cost $3,504, save $1,100, and take between three to four years to earn back. Replacing the electric heater would cost $2,600, save $400 annually, and take between five to eight years to earn back.

The report did not offer extensive analysis of the Highway Garage, as an audit of that building is being performed through the New Hampshire Municipal Energy Assistance Program. It did note, however, that the energy usage for the building is very high, and recommended installing infrared heat, insulating the walls and roof, upgrading the lighting, and to consider installing a wood pellet or chip boiler.

As the police station is a new building, annual energy usage data was not available for a thorough analysis, though the report noted that "the quality of the construction and of the mechanical systems appears to be very good, so there are no big opportunities for energy conservation."

"I think there are a number of things you can do. Everyone's issue right now is how are we going to pay for it," said Weisman. He said though funding is a common difficulty right now, there are options out there for towns that choose to make energy efficiency a priority where energy costs savings can more than make up for debt service costs. He recommended looking into the low-interest Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) Enterprise Energy Fund loans. The CDFA loans offer two-percent interest rates for up to 10 years in an effort to encourage organizations to update and retrofit their facilities.

"It's the kind of thing that I would think would appeal to a Yankee," said Energy Conservation Committee Acting Chairman Jan Edick.

The committee plans to further analyze the report and present to the selectmen recommendations on which, if any, projects should be undertaken, as well as potential funding sources that could be used.

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