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County may sign off on $6M energy savings plan

Rich Cholodofsky
| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 4:28 p.m.

Decades-old equipment in Westmoreland County-owned buildings will be updated or replaced in the next 10 years as part of a $6 million energy savings plan expected to be approved today by the commissioners.

Under consideration is a contract proposal from a Pittsburgh-based company, Noresco, a subsidiary of Equitable Resources, to undertake the conservation program that proposes to substantially reduce the county's energy use.

At a special meeting this evening in Murrysville, commissioners are expected to vote in favor of paying the company $6.1 million. That money will pay for all capital purchases and other work over the next decade to reduce energy costs at the courthouse and nine other county-owned buildings.

In return, the company guarantees that after 10 years the county will recoup its investment costs plus an additional $2 million. Under the state's Guaranteed Energy Savings Act, the company would be required to reimburse the county should the savings not match its initial investment.

"It's something we can't afford not to do," Commissioner Tom Ceraso said.

While much of the savings will come from changes to lighting and ventilation at the courthouse, a large portion of the work involves the decentralization of energy sources at Westmoreland Manor, the prison and juvenile detention center, which are located in the same complex along Route 119 in Hempfield Township.

Preliminary plans call for disbanding the steam plant at the Manor, which provides heat for the other county buildings in the complex, as well as the nearby State Correctional Institution at Greensburg and Hempfield Towers, the senior citizen high-rise apartment building.

In its place, the county would put in individual boilers at its facilities. The move would then mean the state and the Westmoreland County Housing Authority, the owner of Hempfield Towers, would have to find an alternate source of heat for their properties, which currently buy steam from the county.

County officials say all the potential changes mean an eventual reduction in energy costs. In 20 years, the savings could top $10 million, county leaders contend.

"What we'll end up with is more efficient equipment. Short of them paying us it is a guaranteed cost savings," Commissioner Tom Balya said.

Commissioners plan to pay for the energy program by including its cost in a $35 million to $40 million bond issue expected to be floated later this year. County leaders want to borrow money for several high-priced capital projects: the conversion of its 911 emergency radio dispatch system to high-band frequencies and the construction of a new juvenile detention center.

Support for the energy project may not be unanimous.

Commissioner P. Scott Conner said yesterday he is unsure whether he favors the $6 million program.

"It's a great program to replace aging equipment, and I certainly feel it needs to be looked at as part of the bigger picture as well. It needs to be looked at more stringently from a priority point of view," Conner said.

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