Energy Efficiency Upgrades in 33 Cook County-Owned Buildings Have Saved Taxpayers $3 Million

An energy use analysis of 33 Cook County municipal buildings shows that low- and no-cost energy efficiency upgrades have reduced overall energy use by 11 percent in these buildings since 2010, saving taxpayers an estimated $3 million over the past three years. CNT Energy completed the energy use “benchmarking” effort for the County and analyzed more than 4.5 million square feet of space in Cook County owned buildings, roughly equivalent to the gross square footage of Willis Tower. The 33 buildings account for 25 percent of the County’s total square footage in its building portfolio. When all other projects currently underway are completed, 65 percent of the county’s buildings will be benchmarked. “Implementing energy efficiency across Cook County’s building stock has the potential to save taxpayers millions of dollars over time,” Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said. “By measuring and tracking energy consumption in our buildings, we can identify opportunities to use energy more efficiently, implement improvements and measure progress.” Cook County paid $24.4 million in utility bills in 2012. Its 150 buildings consumed 242.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 13 million therms of natural gas that year. Since 2010, Cook County has focused on low- and no-cost energy efficiency improvements to many of its buildings, such as removing unnecessary light bulbs in light fixtures, installing sensors that shut off lights when not in use, and reprogramming building systems to shut off heating and cooling systems when the buildings are not occupied. The benchmarking analysis shows that the upgrades are paying off: the improvements have saved taxpayers $3 million on energy costs over the past three years. In particular, Cook County has focused on the energy use in its suburban courthouses, which represent 5 percent of the County’s total building energy use. Of the six suburban courthouses CNT Energy analyzed, Cook County decreased its adjusted energy use in these buildings by 23 percent since 2010, adjusted for weather and occupancy changes. The 6th District courthouse in suburban Markham had the highest energy use reduction at 31 percent, reducing its energy costs by $91,000 in a single year. “Cook County is leading by example, benchmarking its building portfolio’s energy use and taking the important next step to interpret the results and implement smart energy efficiency improvements,” said Anne Evens, CEO of CNT Energy, which has benchmarked more than 43 million square feet of commercial, municipal, and multifamily building stock. “As municipal budgets and staff resources shrink, energy efficiency is one way for governments to provide essential services at a lower cost and avoid raising revenue from the tax base. Cook County is a model for other governments and nonprofit organizations to follow.” CNT Energy benchmarked the Cook County buildings using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar Portfolio Manager, a free tool that allows users to compare an individual building’s performance with similar commercial buildings nationwide, adjusting for weather variations and basic operating conditions. By benchmarking its building portfolio, Cook County is adding to the national benchmarking database, which will improve comparison capabilities of the tool. The Portfolio Manager also allows users to examine a particular building’s energy use over time. CNT Energy has found that tracking a building’s energy use from year to year provides an important gauge for understanding the building’s performance and identifying areas to increase energy efficiency. The Cook County Department of Environmental Control coordinated the benchmarking effort across several agencies, including the Cook County Health & Hospitals System, Facilities Department, the Department of Transportation and Highways, and the Office of Capital Planning and Policy. Funding for CNT Energy’s benchmarking services were paid for by funding through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and support from the Joyce Foundation.