Back in 2004, the City of Effingham began changing traffic lights over to LED lights.
It was the start of many energy-saving upgrades the city undertook that have so far resulted in savings of more than $65,000.
The traffic signals that were replaced had an initial estimated payback of four to five years, but according to Public Works Director Steve Miller, with the electricity rates, it took less time than that to see results.
“They’re brighter, last longer and there is less maintenance,” said Miller. “[It paid for itself] in two to three years.”
Then in 2011, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced grants for energy efficient projects. Miller jumped at the chance to install variable frequency drives at both the water and waste water plants.
“That’s been huge,” said Miller. “
The VFDs allow for the remote control of the systems’ pumps and they also can be set to automatically turn pumps on and off as well as input settings depending on how much water a pump needs to bring in or pump out.
“So far we’ve had good luck with them,” added Miller. “They seem to be working well and we have better control of our operations now. They can change the parameters of the treatment remotely. Otherwise you would physically have to come in and crank a valve down. So there are a lot of benefits in the equipment other than the cost savings.”
Miller loves the cost savings, though. According to the public works director, the VFDs are beginning to bring a return on their investment.
From fiscal years 2013-14 to 2015-16, the combined savings between the water treatment and waste water treatment plants has amounted to just over $64,000.
Miller says the city has also installed automatic light dimmers, LEDs at the city maintenance garage and waste water treatment plant and updated pumps at various lift stations.
And while the savings associated with these smaller scale projects is harder to measure, Miller says they still count.
“When you start thinking about all the little things, the indirect costs and labor costs, those things really add up,” he said.
The public works director estimates that the city changed over 100 bulbs to LED.
“They just last a lot longer,” said Miller. “So you have less cost to replace them.”
The police department has also gotten in on the energy savings, or so it hopes.
Just two months ago, the department received a Ford Explorer, the first SUV on the fleet. On its own, it is rated at 17 miles per gallon compared to the 9-10 mpg that the Chevrolet Impalas that make up the rest of the fleet get.
But the department didn’t stop there.
After hearing that Springfield and Coles Coles County police departments switched over to a dual gasoline/propane system, Effingham made an inquiry.
“I spoke with their deputy chief at the sheriff’s department and they’ve been very successful,” said Effingham Police Chief Mike Schutzbach. “Coles County has their entire fleet on propane, so I was able to utilize their experience and determine what was in our best interest.”
So far, that means just experimenting with the single Ford Explorer, which recently had the dual fuel system installed.
The vehicle was purchased through a government program at $25,555. The propane kit, including installation at Dales’ Diesel Service was $6,900. The kit estimates that the vehicle will experience a 5-7 percent reduction in overall gas mileage.
According to Schutzbach, the department is in a one-year contract with a local vendor to supply the liquid propane, during which it will cost just over a $1 a gallon for the fuel. But in reality, thanks to a federal government program that reimburses 37 cents for each gallon, the city will only be paying around 67 cents per gallon for propane.
“That is good for a year, and then after that it just depends on the fluctuations of propane and if the government still has the rebate program,” said Schutzbach.
And the chief of police says that while the manufacturer of the fuel system kit estimates a 5 to 7 percent reduction in miles per gallon with propane, other departments such as Coles County estimate it to be closer to 10.
“The vehicle can either run on gas alone or propane,” added Schutzbach. “You just flip a switch. It’s that easy. So if the price of gasoline is reasonable, it may run on gas and if propane dips, we may run it completely on propane.”
The police chief says that his department will monitor the vehicle each day that it is in service to make sure if there is in fact a cost savings and that the system has no adverse effects on the engine.
“Everyone says that the engine actually runs cleaner and increases the life of the engine,” added Schutzbach. “We’re proceeding with this cautiously so that if we jump in, we can do so with both feet ready.”
Beyond a new police vehicle, Miller says that the city is beginning to look into the possibility of upgrading HVAC systems since now there exists those that can be remotely controlled and automatically set to sense the outside temperature and therefore begin to heat or cool accordingly.
“The HVAC systems are getting more sophisticated and expensive,” he said. “I think a lot of the heating and cooling is getting more efficient, so if grants came out for that, it would be a big benefit for us, especially at city hall. But you have to take the low hanging fruit first, right? You take the things you can get when grants are available.”