City saves $1.2 million over 10 years

EAU CLAIRE — When it comes to energy efficiency, Wisconsin communities could take a lesson from Eau Claire. The city began decreasing its energy use years ago, then used federal stimulus funds to improve more public facilities. Now, the city is using its experience to help others become more efficient.

Eau Claire’s sustainability efforts go back nearly 30 years, when it began capturing methane from its wastewater treatment plant to help power the facility. More recently, the city has taken advantage of several opportunities to invest in energy efficiency.

“Our first major overhaul was in 2008,” said Ned Noel, the city’s associate planner. “An analysis of our larger buildings told us what insulation, weatherizing, lighting and ventilation work would give us the quickest bang for the buck.” The improvements will pay for themselves in less than six years, after factoring in incentives from Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy agency.

The L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library was one of the first buildings weatherized. The library then switched to more efficient light bulbs and scaled back lighting in over-illuminated areas. In all, several hundred inefficient bulbs were removed. The impact on electricity use is considerable, since the library is open more than 60 hours a week.

“We just had our grand reopening in November, after the only major renovation of our 33-year-old building,” said library director John Stoneberg. “When we gave public tours, we emphasized the lighting changes. Everyone said it was a good idea. No one wants you to spend more than you have to on electricity. Our next projects will increase the efficiency of our cooling and water systems.”

Federal stimulus funding allowed Eau Claire to carry out energy efficiency projects at City Hall and Hobbs Ice Arena. Between these improvements and the earlier weatherizing work, the city will save more than $1.2 million over the next 10 years.

“Eau Claire’s commitment to energy efficiency is truly remarkable,” said Diane Farsetta, energy efficiency coordinator at Clean Wisconsin. “Stronger efficiency policies and programs could help communities across the state enjoy similar successes.”

Eau Claire is now spearheading a collaborative effort with Eau Claire County and the neighboring city of Altoona to help them increase their energy efficiency and use of renewable energy. The year-long process is part of the state’s Energy Independence Communities goal to get 25 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity and fuels from renewable sources by 2025.

“Less electricity used means less pollution from coal-fired power plants,” said Ned Noel. “And efficient communities are better stewards of taxpayer dollars. Everyone can find a reason to support energy efficiency.”