Sustainability Efforts Pay Off in Outagamie County

July 21--APPLETON -- Outagamie County is learning that what's good for the Earth also has some good benefits when it comes to the bottom line.

In 2010, the county adopted a sustainability action plan to become a more energy-efficient operation. That year, the county received a $492,000 block grant to complete efficiency projects. Now -- three years later -- usage statistics and annual energy spending show the investments made into greener technologies are making an impact.

"We have made a real, concerted effort," said county planner Mike Hendrick.

Efficient heating and cooling systems were a key component of just-completed administration building renovations. The county also installed a new energy recovery wheel this year at the Justice Center. The unit recovers and recycles heat in the winter and cool air during the summer months.

In fall, the county will open its "net zero" general aviation terminal at the airport. The structure, with features including geothermal heating and rooftop solar panels, will create most of the energy it uses.

County Executive Tom Nelson said the airport project means more than cost savings. It is intended to give a positive first impression of the Fox Valley to business travelers.

"It shows we're a cutting edge, progressive community," he said.

Budget comparisons highlight the gains achieved in recent years. Case in point: The combined electricity and natural gas expenses for three major county facilities.

The bills for the Outagamie County Justice Center, the county's administration building and the airport tallied up to more than $1.15 million in 2008. The county's 2013 budget for heating, cooling and powering those same buildings was $107,000 less.

A December update prepared by the county's planning department and sustainability committee showed significant declines in utility usage.

The report compared utility use during the period from 2007-09 to that in 2010-11. It showed a 10 percent decline in natural gas consumption, a 13.5 percent decline in electricity use and 9 percent less water usage.

The sustainability efforts have spanned county operations.

Outagamie County Regional Airport was fitted with solar electric and thermal panels. A heating system in place at the highway garage utilizes methane gas produced by the landfill and has resulted in a $16,000 annual energy cost reduction.

It makes sense from the spending side, but it's also the right thing to do, Nelson said. Sustainability has become part of the county's collective mindset and it isn't solely a matter of efficiency. Nelson noted that crews recycled 95 tons of material removed from the administration building.

It was kept from the landfill. The county also netted $15,000.

"It was worth the time and effort," Nelson said.



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