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Florence council, staff looking for energy savings

FLORENCE — The town will begin an exhaustive audit of energy inefficiencies throughout all its facilities, and Library & Community Center visitors will soon have covered parking, following action at Monday’s Town Council meeting.

The council authorized the town manager to contract for an “investment grade audit” of town facilities. The savings the town will see over 10 to 20 years are guaranteed to pay for the cost of the upgrades, Ben Bitter, the town’s intergovernmental and communications manager, told the council.

“The first step is to find out where our inefficiencies exist,” Bitter said. Much of the town’s equipment is outdated or nearing the end of its useful life, according to a town staff report. At Town Hall, the air-conditioning systems were not designed to cool an office building.

Councilwoman Kristen Larsen asked if a consultant is needed to see that air conditioners and other equipment are outdated. “How does this $5,000 get us ahead?” she asked.

Town Manager Brent Billingsley said the Ameresco energy efficiency company is “brand agnostic,” providing a broader perspective of the town’s options than a normal vendor would, and their comprehensive audit is worth more than $5,000.

An Ameresco representative told the council that the actual value of the engineering work could be as much as $40,000; $5,000 is the “walk-away fee” if the town opts not to proceed with energy upgrades. Billingsley said the town contacted several companies to make sure it had a viable project and the correct partner. Florence Unified School District has a similar energy program.

The energy savings company financially guarantees the conservation measures will pay for themselves over the life of the project, according to the town staff report. Each year, the company is required to verify that upgrades achieved the projected savings. If there are any shortfalls, the company must write the town a check for the difference. Florence will contract with Ameresco under the terms of a cooperative contract with the city of Tucson.

The town could see savings even sooner from Arizona Public Service Co. The council authorized Billingsley to contract with APS to participate in the APS Solar Communities Program. The power company will build covered parking with solar panels, free to the town, at the Library & Community Center. The town will receive a $495 credit on its monthly electric bill for the next 20 years, Billingsley said.

The council also approved the town’s applications to the Arizona Water Infrastructure Finance Authority for both water and wastewater loans. Billingsley told the council that interest rates are low, WIFA has money to lend and the town is also eligible for “forgivable principal,” which would make these transactions grants rather than loans.

The town will seek $9.1 million in funding for water projects and $5.1 million for wastewater projects.

In other business, Mayor Tara Walter noted a family just outside the town limits lost its home to fire on Sept. 17. The town Fire Department doesn’t normally respond to out-of-town fires, but it did in this case. Walter asked for a future agenda topic on the town’s options for providing fire service to that area.