St. Joseph County thinks energy-efficient investment would pay for itself


St. Joseph County officials are looking at ways to make buildings more energy efficient. The plans would call for upgrades to nearly a dozen county buildings and the County City Building is one of them.

Energy consultants say the building could use more than $1 million worth of upgrades. Those would be for new heat and air conditioning equipment and energy efficient lighting, just to name a few.

County officials say the plan is still in the works but say it's designed to make sure the upgrades pay for themselves.

The jail is one of many St. Joseph County buildings getting a closer look from energy consultants.

"There's not a facility in the county that we're not touching in some way or another," said Tactical Energy Group consultant Jonathan Burke.

Burke is helping the county find ways to be more energy efficient.

He says the jail could use roughly $2.5 million worth of upgrades for its heating, air conditioning and water systems.

"This is a very big building, and it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We recognize that there's a lot of energy consumption here," said St. Joseph County Police Assistant Chief Bill Thompson.

The county spends just under $2 million a year on utilities. Burke says upgrades could cut costs by 38 percent and save the county almost $800,000 a year.

"Lower-use lighting, better functioning equipment, HVAC equipment, better controls for all of the equipment across the county, which reduces the overall spend and reduces the environmental impact," Burke said.

Since October, the county has been making small changes to be more energy efficient. Officials say they expect the changes to help save $160,000 this year. That money will be used to fund larger potential projects in the future.

The total price tag of the proposed upgrades is $10 million. Officials say energy savings over the next 15 years will cover the cost.

"The company is guaranteeing the savings. So in the event that, let's say, we should save $100,000 a year, I'll just pick a number, if we only save half of that, then the company is going to pay for the other $50,000," said St. Joseph County Commissioner Andy Kostielney.

Under the proposed plan, the Juvenile Justice Center is also slated to get $3 million in upgrades. County council members say the plans are still being finalized and should be presented to the full council later this month. A vote on the plans could come later this summer.

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