The Town of Woodville again won top honors in a national competition that challenges corporations, governments and organizations to reduce the amount of energy used at their facilities.
The town won first place for overall energy reduction in the National Energy Star Building competition by cutting energy usage by more than 89 percent at the Woodville Chapel.
The chapel, which is used for wedding rentals, beat out more than 100 buildings from all over the country for the honor, while also winning first place for energy reduction in the Worship Facility category, says Liz Cochran, manager of the Energy Division for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
Woodville’s other first-place recognitions for energy-usage reductions included the Woodville Cooperative building and the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
The cooperative building was able to cut energy use by 32 percent, and the wastewater treatment plant reduced energy use by 16 percent.
It was the second year the 741-person, Jackson County town had entered the competition with five of its municipal buildings, and it was the second time it brought home major awards, Woodville Mayor Steve Helms says.
“It’s like the Town of Woodville is winning national championships, just like (the University of) Alabama does,” Helms says, joking.
In 2014, Woodville also won awards for cutting energy use by 25 percent at five public facilities after starting its energy-savings measures with help from an $8,625 grant from ADECA in 2013.
The grant, which was used to upgrade wastewater treatment equipment, kickstarted the process, says Plant Operator Steve Harnden, who played a key role in the town’s energy-efficiency efforts.
With the grant came a requirement to use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, a free online tool that helps users track energy usage over time. They also decided to enter the Energy Saver competition at the suggestion of Cochran and received help from North Alabama Electric Cooperative for advice and assistance.
Harnden says they started by replacing thermostats in the town hall to programmable ones, as well as changing some of town hall’s fluorescent lights to LED lights and turning off the water heater and drinking fountains.
“Basically, we asked the question, ‘Do we need this?’” he says, noting that town hall was able to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent from the previous year in just a few months.
In addition, they looked at the chapel, a historical building that was rented out for weddings about three or four times a year.
“We had a brand-new air conditioning unit that was running full blast, and the refrigerator was turned on as cold as possible in case they needed it,” Harnden says. “It was running all the time, and they had the same hot water heater for the bathroom just to wash your hands when nobody was there.”
The energy-saving efforts didn’t get started until mid-year, so Harnden and Helms were surprised when they won the Energy Star awards for 2014. The savings hadn’t kicked in until the last three months of the year, Harnden says.
In 2015, they decided to keep going with even more reductions in energy use. They continued to implement at all town facilities the changes they’d made at the town hall, including turning off lights, unplugging equipment that wasn’t being used, switching to LED bulbs at the facilities and installing timers.
The savings began to add up.
In 2015, they were able to save about $800, which may not seem like much but goes a long way in a small-town budget, Harnden says.
“We’re able to do other projects that we weren’t able to do before and still not owe anything,” he says.
Mayor Helms agrees.
“Our savings are basically used to pay other bills,” Helms says. “If you don’t have to spend money on electricity, you can afford to buy more coal patch for patching potholes. You can pay for more people to do more stuff.”
Town officials say they’re convinced the results and cost-savings will continue. They’ve even developed more ideas to save money, Harnden says.
“In June, we should be finished installing our LED street lights,” he says. “We have converted all 120 street lights from 195-watt, technically, (regular) bulbs down to 45-watt LED bulbs. Our normal electric bill for the street lights for 2013 was about $800 a month. Last month, the street light bill was $352.”
And while the LED lighting may cost more initially, it will save the town money in the coming years.
“The thing that’s cool about this town is that they recognize the value of spending money to save money,” Harnden says. “We spent almost $12,000 on street lights, but we’ll end up paying for them in two years. They’re guaranteed for roughly 10 years, so for eight years that’s almost $450 a month they’re not going to spend.”
Helms says he’s not really looking to win awards in next year’s Energy Star competition. He really just likes looking at the reductions in the utility bill checks he writes each month.
“It’s one of those things that I anticipate will drop off some,” Helms laughs. “But I’ve been absolutely amazed at how it’s worked so far.”