‘Building science’ will help Federal Way reduce energy costs by 13 percent

Federal Way has a new staff member tasked with saving money by identifying ways to conserve energy.

Deke Jones was hired in July as the Shared Resource Conservation Manager. He splits his time between the cities of Federal Way and Auburn. The position is grant funded by Washington State Department of Commerce and Puget Sound Energy. Jones does not receive benefits and he drives his own car. His efforts are expected to slash Federal Way’s cost to operate its facilities.

The city’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint began a few years back. But funding was not available to hire an employee or seek assistance in reducing energy costs at that time, Financial Services Administrator Bryant Enge said.

Now, with grant money in play, the city is picking up where it left off.

"When this opportunity came available, we thought it was an ideal position for someone to come in and continue that effort," Enge said.

For the next two or possibly three years, Jones will help the cities identify ways their buildings can function optimally. His training was provided by PSE and Washington State University’s Extension Energy Program. Jones’ work requires creativity, an eye for detail and the ability to navigate cutting edge software programs. The technical term for the work is "building science," and it’s starting to boom.

“This type of position has been around since the '90s, but it never gained any traction,” Jones said.

Jones expects to save the City of Federal Way tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of dollars each year. Per the grant funding, he must meet energy conservation goals. At the conclusion of his first year of employment, Jones must save the City of Federal Way 3 percent on its utility and energy costs. In the second year, he must save an additional 5 percent, and in the third year the final 5 percent must be realized. By 2014, the city can expect to see a 13 percent reduction in the amount it pays for utilities and energy.

A key component of Jones’ job is creating energy use profiles for each city facility. This requires a thorough inspection of the buildings. Jones looks for opportunities to replace drafty windows or inefficient light bulbs. He considers whether a building’s thermostat or cooling system can be adjusted in a way that saves energy, but keeps occupants comfortable. He reviews utility bills for each facility to make sure the city has not been overcharged.

"A lot of what I do is identify opportunities," he said.

No-cost and low-cost energy conservation measures are promptly implemented. The measures can cost up to a few hundred dollars, but will result in prompt energy savings over a long-term period. Any measures that cost significant dollars will be approved by management staff or the city council prior to implementation, Jones said. In many instances, there are incentives or opportunities to capture grant money to help cover the cost of implementing Jones’ suggestions. Incentives and cost breaks are usually offered through manufacturers and utility companies, such as Puget Sound Energy.

Conserving energy is not as difficult as it may seem. For example, on a recently rainy day, Jones recently noticed outdoor sprinklers in the median along Pacific Highway South were going. Money could be saved by installing sensors that detect the presence of rain and keep the sprinklers from activating during wet weather, he said. Installing energy-saving light fixtures and burning energy-conserving light bulbs is another way to achieve cost savings, Jones said. City Hall alone has 1,016 light fixtures, he said. Most of Jones’ suggestions are simple, but when implemented and combined, the measures make a big difference.

"It’s very common sense stuff, but it’s elevated to a sophisticated level," Jones said.

Accompanying Jones in his mission are a few impressive energy management and monitoring software programs. One program lets Jones view the power usage, both gas and electricity, of all the city’s facilities. Data dates back to 2004. This helps Jones see which facilities are energy-suckers and which are operating efficiently. Energy Interval Service lets him view a daily or hourly profile of a building’s energy use. The software can help Jones pinpoint ill uses of energy — for example, a heating system running throughout the weekend.

Another ally will be consumers. Jones will conduct public education. He won’t hesitate to remind people how their actions, or inactions, affect the city’s overall energy consumption rate.

"There are so many daily opportunities for people to make a difference. And it’s easy," Jones said.

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