BUCKSPORT, Maine — Town officials will look for ways to lower municipal costs through energy savings in the coming year.
Councilors on Thursday authorized Town Manager Roger Raymond to work with Superintendent of Schools Jim Boothby to develop a request for proposals for an energy audit of all town and school buildings.
The audit not only will target conservation, it also will look at alternative energy sources. That may make it difficult to find a contractor to conduct the audit, Raymond said Thursday. Most companies, he said, focus on one of the issues, not both.
Raymond said he is convinced there is an opportunity to identify ways to save money in energy costs through the audit. Energy makes up a significant cost to taxpayers and will continue to be, even though fuel prices are now lower than they have been.
“When the price of fuel went up, the cost of energy had a significant impact on our operation costs,” he said. “We saw an increase of $250,000 in one year.”
The price of fuel oil has dropped considerably from its high point this fall, but Raymond said it is unlikely the price will remain low. When fuel prices rise again, the town again will be hit with high energy costs.
“I hate to see us spend money on services that we don’t need to spend money on, money that could be spent somewhere else,” he said.
Raymond said the audit will focus on nine buildings that are supported by tax dollars: the town office, public safety building, town garage, wastewater treatment facility, the transfer station, the high school, the Luman Warren School, the Jewett School-community center, the Miles Lane School and the new middle school.
Raymond reminded the councilors that the town conducted an energy audit on the municipal building several years ago. Although the building is an efficient building to heat, he noted that the audit identified several ways to save energy costs. One was to put the lights along the waterfront walkway on a timer that shut them off at 11 p.m. That one project cut the energy bill for the waterfront in half.
The plan proposed for the regional school district calls for an energy plan for the school buildings, and the audit could be a significant part of that plan. Raymond has been critical of the school department in the past because he often would see windows or doors left open in the middle of winter. Part of the problem, he noted, is with the heating systems in some schools, which results in some areas being hotter than others.
Councilor Jeff Robinson pointed out that he has attended meetings at the high school where the library windows were wide open.
“They had to keep them open to cool off the building,” he said.
Raymond said the audit would look at mechanical as well as operational issues.
The town’s school board did not have to vote on the development of the request for proposals, but will review the document and eventually will vote on the final audit and decide which recommendations to pursue. Superintendent Boothby endorsed the project Thursday.
“It makes perfect sense to do this,” he said. “I’m pleased to be a part of it.”
Boothby said he already has identified several areas that need to be addressed in the audit.
Councilor Robert Carmichael also supported the idea and urged the town to make the audit a regular part of the town procedures.
“I like to see this type of thing done periodically,” he said. “I like to see us set a time for an update on this rather than waiting until we have a problem.”
Raymond noted that the audit would look at alternative energy sources as well as conservation and will tie in with current efforts exploring energy options.
A recent survey of residents in the built-up area of town indicated strong interest in having natural gas available there. Of the 564 surveys mailed to residents, 302 were returned, a response rate well over 50 percent. Of those returned, 242 indicated they were interested in using natural gas.
The town has begun talking with Bangor Gas about the possibility of extending the gas line that runs to the mill, into the built-up area. The positive responses will be plotted on a map of the area and forwarded to Bangor Gas.
The targeted area includes a number of municipal and school buildings, and the town will review its energy needs to determine whether it would be feasible to convert any or all of those buildings to natural gas.
Raymond also told councilors he has been monitoring a municipal windmill operating in the town of Saco. The wind turbine is the same as one proposed for Bucksport, he said, and the data from Saco will help the town decide whether a wind project is viable in Bucksport.