A Boost in Energy

Sheriff Robert Arnold

Photo: Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold stands on top of the new roof of the jail, which is saving the county on heating and cooling. Photo by Ann Richardson

By Susan Robertson

What started out as a supporting role to the Tennessee Solar Institute’s initiative to bring scientists, engineers and other technical experts together with industry leaders and policymakers to speed the development and implementation of solar technologies has led to the UT Center for Industrial Services (CIS) being one of the main characters in energy-saving efforts by cities and counties across the state.

Several years ago, CIS, an agency of the UT Institute for Public Service, began working on a solar energy grant with the Tennessee Solar Institute. The agency’s purpose was to promote solar energy for manufacturers and to provide solar energy training for companies. As that grant closed, CIS began to think of how it could use this new knowledge to help others.

In the meantime, CIS’ sister agencies, the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) and the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), were constantly hearing from the local governments they serve about how they believed they could trim their budgets by being more energy efficient in their facilities. The three agencies put their heads together to develop projects that could help cities and counties maximize their energy and decrease costs. The agencies have conducted energy audits for these governments, assisted them in applying for grants to fund projects, and educated them on energy savings and alternative energy sources, including the use of geothermal programs for schools, recreational facilities and prisons.

The UT Center for Industrial Services works with local governments to retrofit high-use facilities with lower-cost energy solutions
The UT Center for Industrial Services works with local governments to retrofit high-use facilities with lower-cost energy solutions

“We have been working in sustainability for a number of years, and we’ve had success helping our customers (manufacturers) reduce their energy costs by making changes,” says CIS Executive Director Paul Jennings. “We’ve had the expertise, and once CTAS and MTAS started getting questions, they asked if we could help.”

After being asked to assist, CIS consultant Lynn Reed will go into county and city facilities to conduct an energy audit. He will examine energy bills as well as the building itself and can identify where the facility is losing money on energy.

“He will look at areas such as lighting, air conditioning, windows and doors, examine the bill and look at the cost of replacing equipment in those areas; then he will calculate what the facilities can save simply by updating some of that equipment,” Jennings says. “The customers often see improvements they can make without a great deal of investment.”

Counties and cities often request that facilities with heavy energy usage, such as jails and schools, undergo an energy audit. One project was the Sumner County jail, where CIS first conducted an energy audit to determine where improvements were needed. The audit revealed that the jail could save millions by updating lighting and making heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) changes.

“I don’t know how much we’ve saved exactly, but it’s been substantial,” says Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt. “I knew we had issues with this older facility, and we were looking at renovating this old jail versus building a new one. It was really a numbers game; making these changes was more affordable than building a new jail.”

As a result of its energy audit, the Rutherford County jail received a new roof that will keep that facility warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. “We received a grant to replace the roof, plus we made some internal changes, and although I don’t have an exact figure, I know we are using less energy,” says Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold. “This is a great resource for every sheriff’s office in the state.”

The three agencies meet monthly to identify city and county building assets that can benefit from energy efficiency audits. The projects include HVAC, lighting, motors, pumps, air-handling systems, chillers and boiler improvements.