Luzerne County government spends more than $1.2 million annually on electricity, water and other utilities at a dozen of its buildings, equating to $1.65 per square foot, a new report shows.
The county’s energy costs would decrease to approximately $1.37 per square foot if the county borrows $7.5 million — $12.1 million with interest — to fund a series of projects, ranging from switching to interior and exterior LED lighting to installing new boilers, according to the Pennsylvania-based McClure Company, which has an office in Wilkes-Barre.
Council members are weighing whether to include the project in a proposed debt refinancing and authorize the manager to negotiate a contract with McClure.
This proposal is not typical because the county would not bid out the work on its own. Instead, McClure would complete the projects and provide a financial guarantee the county will hit specified energy reduction targets, officials said. Such guaranteed energy savings agreements are authorized by state law.
Pitching the concept to council members Tuesday, McClure representatives maintained the package will address a series of capital problems while capturing savings that will cover their up-front investment within 20 years.
Six items that will be funded were identified as “critical upgrades” by McClure:
• The courthouse needs its own boilers because it is heated by an aging and deteriorating underground steam pipe from the boiler plant near the Water Street prison. The company proposes abandoning the line and installing two gas-fired condensing boilers the size of refrigerators in fourth-floor courthouse jury rooms that are no longer used because they are not accessible to the disabled.
• The boiler plant, which serves the prison and four other nearby county-owned buildings, has three boilers, but one is inoperable and another is too large and not expected to meet state inspection standards. If the courthouse has its own heating system, the plant could function with one new boiler, for a total of two, McClure said.
• The electric switchgear at the courthouse should be replaced because it is obsolete and its capacity is maxed out, the company said.
• The prison’s water system, which provides hot water to facility sinks and showers, is “on its last leg,” a McClure representative said.
• The two final flagged problems involve HVAC upgrades at both the prison and companion minimum offenders building on Reichard Street.
Shayne A. Homan, McClure’s energy service director, said the prison air conditioning system is “beyond its useful life.”
“There’s one, so when it goes down there will be no cooling. With the building the way it is and the occupancy in there, the temperature will rise rather quickly,” Homan said.
The prison work also includes temperature controls and duct cleaning to remove build-up that impedes air flow. Homan said his company was prudent selecting work at the facility because county officials eventually may opt to build a new prison.
“Not one thing on here is frivolous spending,” Homan said, referring to the critical projects. “It doesn’t really matter if they save in energy or not. You have to do them.”
The offsetting savings would come from an estimated $4.8 million in avoided maintenance and repairs and $8 million in utility expense reductions, the company said. In addition to lighting alterations, McClure would seal cracks around doors and roof lines, insulate hot water pipes and steam valves, retrofit or replace plumbing fixtures with low-flow options, and alter building control systems.
Council members and citizens have been raising questions about how the contract and payment to McClure would be structured and the realism of the savings projections.
Council Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck also wants to know why some of the problems were not highlighted in county capital plans in light of the urgency conveyed by McClure.
“There are a lot of questions, and that’s exactly why there is not a vote planned until Sept. 12, and that schedule is assuming council members have all their questions answered to make an informed decision,” she said Thursday.