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AHFC Study Estimates $125 Million in Energy Savings

Fairbanks, AK - There are an estimated 5000 publically owned buildings in the state of Alaska.  Over the last three years, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation collected preliminary data on 1200 of them.  300 of those buildings also received energy audits.  Results released this fall show that energy-related improvements to Alaska’s public buildings could save the public more than 125 million dollars annually. 

A number of well-known public buildings in the Fairbanks North Star Borough were part of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s three-year energy audit.  They include the Carlson Center, the Big Dipper, two public swimming pools and 30 of the Borough’s 40 public schools.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center’s Research Assistant Dustin Madden and Building Energy Economist Nathan Wiltse (Wilt-see) collaborated on the effort. “I would say that probably most people were surprised, because before this paper," he says, "there was really no way to compare how much energy your building was using versus another.  So, a lot of people we talked to all thought they were doing great and they were, because they were using less energy that they had in the past.”

A group of 40 auditors and engineers statewide used a metric that considers regional heating degree days and building square footage to compare public buildings statewide.  Overall, Fairbanks fared better than other cities across the state.  Nathan Wiltse says that may be due mostly to the high cost of energy. “If you save 1000 gallons of fuel in Fairbanks, that’s 4000 dollars.  If you save 1000 cubic feet of natural gas in Anchorage you don’t save as much on a per unit of energy basis and it makes your simple payback and your returns on your investments are much lower,” says Wiltse.

Dustin Madden say there was no silver bullet. “I think come of them were just overlooked basic maintenance and that was kind of surprising, like people left their heat tape all the time and so they’re just constantly heating water when they don’t need to.”

Nathan Wiltse says the report does include a list of 50 recurring problems that require simple fixes. “Another common one that was a bit surprising to us and a number of the auditors was the number of control systems that have been bypassed at various times maybe because of a cycle through of maintenance personnel or whatnot.”

AHFC says Alaskans spend more than 641 million dollars on energy each year.  The study estimates a savings of 125 million dollars annually.  Wiltse and Madden say they’d both like to see the state establish an energy efficiency code for its buildings.  Those that received in depth energy audits were received a detailed list of recommended improvements.