Energy audits steer nonprofits toward savings, efficiency

CHAMPAIGN – Ten nonprofit agencies are hoping federally funded energy audits will help them become more efficient and take a chunk out of their utility bills.

GDS Associates, the consultant the city hired to do the work, finished up the last of its 10 examinations of energy practices at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County on Thursday. Consultants also visited the TIMES Center earlier this week.

"For us, it's a matter of looking at every possible solution to help with the financial crisis that we're experiencing," said Sheila Ferguson, the CEO of the Mental Health Center. "And it's always been a priority for us and our board to be as energy- efficient as possible."

The Department of Energy funneled $100,000 to the city of Champaign through its energy efficiency and conservation block grant this year to pay for the audits. Of that, the city paid $72,425 for the consultant, and the difference could be added to another pool of money that will help the nonprofits pay to implement the consultant's recommendations, said Teri Legner, the city's economic development manager.

"We're really excited," Ferguson said. "It's one of those situations where there might be great opportunities for us."

Rodney Rhoads, energy program representative for GDS Associates, said he was able to make some "notable" recommendations for the agencies.

"What we were looking for in the building were ways they could improve their energy usage in a variety of ways," Rhoads said.

For example, the TIMES Center uses metal halide lamps to light its cafeteria. Each of those lamps uses 250 watts. A switch to four-foot fluorescent fixtures could cut that power usage in half, he said.

The consultants also examined each nonprofit agency's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and made the appropriate recommendations. Rhoads said lighting and HVAC systems alone account for 30 percent to 40 percent of a building's energy bill.

"We'll hope to be able to give the nonprofit agencies a little more room," he said.

Detailed reports will take about three to four weeks to generate, Rhoads said.

After that, Ferguson said her goal will be searching for grants to pay for the changes. Legner said city officials have not yet decided how to structure the program that would pay for the changes with the leftover federal money.

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