VIRGINIA — The City of Virginia has become both a brighter — and greener — place, thanks to a recently completed energy efficiency project meant to save the city more than $100,00 annually.

Eric Laumeyer, senior account executive with the Eden Prairie, Minn., office of Ameresco, an energy efficiency and renewable energy company, presented highlights of the nearly $2.5 million project at Tuesday’s Virginia City Council meeting.

“There was no capital contribution from the city,” Laumeyer said of the effort, funded by a lease agreement with Ameresco, and aimed at providing energy cost-savings to the city as well as increased comfort in city buildings. The Virginia Public Utilities did, however, contribute to the project “to help cash flow,” he said.

The year-long project, launched last October, included LED lighting upgrades in all of the 12 city facilities and downtown street lights, building envelope improvements, updated heating and cooling systems, and building automation and control upgrades.

Laumeyer said that a year ago, the city was spending $450,000 per year on energy costs, plus street light expenses.

“Ameresco has been able to save the city $108,000 annually” via the improvements — $93,000 in energy costs and the remainder in operation and maintenance expenses, he said. The city is paying that amount to Ameresco yearly until the project is paid off.

The upgrades will reduce technical repairs and increase the lifespan of the city’s lighting, Laumeyer noted, adding that LED lights last 25 to 30 years depending on usage.

“That’s part of O and M (operation and maintenance) savings also,” Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr., said.

“We thought it was a really solid project,” Laumeyer said.

Added to the project was a “cool feature” — the capability of changing the color of light illuminating the cupola of Virginia City Hall. The cupola, currently lit in pink to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, will be changed each month and can also be modified to celebrate holidays, sports teams and school colors, or other special occasions.

Clubs or organizations that would like the lighting changed for a period of time can fill out a form at city hall, said Councilor Steve Johnson.

A number of city staff are trained to adjust the cupola lighting, he added. “The stuff we can do up there is amazing.” Not many cities, he said, are “able to honor people or events” with special lighting at city headquarters.

He said citizens have been commenting on “how bright the lights are” around town. A “tangible” change he has noticed is in the corner of the basement in a city building where steam is fed inside. Previously, no matter the season, it was impossible to be in the area “without breaking a sweat,” he said. The location is now comfortable.

Johnson, who took a lead on initiating the project, said when he was first elected to the council, “helping the city become more energy-efficient” was on his checklist.

In other business, the city council additionally discussed joining the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, a voluntary initiative that helps cities achieve sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

Colby Abazs, of Clean Energy Resource Teams, spoke over the phone to the council about the free program. GreenStep, managed by a public-private partnership, uses a number of best practices and recognizes cities based on the number of actions taken, each of which are implemented as decided by local elected officials.

If Virginia becomes a GreenStep city, it “will join some lovely neighbors” already enrolled in the program, including Mountain Iron, Gilbert and Chisholm, Abazs said.

“Nothing in the program requires you to take any particular actions,” he noted. However, the more actions that are taken, the higher the level of recognition, which can be beneficial when applying for grants, he said.

The city’s energy efficiency upgrades are already a big step toward accumulating GreenStep points toward recognition, including the new LED lighting, Johnson said.

“The stuff we have already done as a city is amazing, even prior to the Ameresco contract,” he said.

“The only thing we are not getting is people going, ‘Great job’. … The only thing we are not getting is when we apply for future grants saying, ‘We’ve already done the work. Here’s our proof.’”

If the city joins GreenStep, it may even be in the position to attract more businesses to the area, he said.

Cuffe said the city will continue to look into the matter before making a decision.

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