Bright ideas lower citys energy bills

Conservation:When the mayor accepts an energy-efficiency award tonight, he can thank a cartoon light bulb.

June 14, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

When Baltimore officials needed help bringing down the citys energy costs, they turned to a cartoon light bulb and common sense.

Everyone knows its wise to turn off the lights when leaving a room, but city officials say this was a new concept to some city employees. Checking each months bills to make sure everything is correct is a ritual for many homeowners, but Baltimore City government had been charged about a half-million dollars by mistake.

Enter Tighty Lighty, a cartoon light bulb and energy-saving superhero that was rolled out in 2002 to encourage Baltimore City employees to be more energy-efficient.This superhero isnt signaled by a spotlight in the sky (that wouldn't be energy-efficient). Instead, he arrives in city employees' e-mail inboxes, bouncing around and winking as he tightens his belt and reminds them to "turn it off" -- part of a energy conservation project that public works officials say will save millions over the next several years.

The savings since 2001 when energy conservation became a priority is about $1 million, with much more expected annually as a result of money-saving technology upgrades.

Tonight, Mayor Martin O'Malley will be the first mayor honored with a Leadership Award from the United States Energy Associations Energy Efficiency Forum, which features O'Malley's potential 2006 gubernatorial opponent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., on its list of co-hosts. President Bush will deliver a keynote address to the forum tomorrow night.

"For some reason, local government and big-city government in the past often got a free pass, and it was assumed that they were run efficiently," said O'Malley. [The oversights weren't made] out of malice, just out of tradition. But traditions change when people choose to change them."

As an extension of O'Malley's business-like approach to reforming the way the city functions, Department of Public Works officials fed energy information into CitiStat, the computer database that tracks municipal efficiency, and found several problem areas.

Reviews of billing and meter-reading uncovered a mistaken $294,000 charge from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and $125,000 in erroneous billing from steam supplier Trigen. Officials also determined that some energy contracts werent delivering efficient results.

In the past as far as we know before CitiStat, people weren't looking at these things, said Hatim N. Jabaji, an engineering supervisor in the city's conservation program. "It was, There's the bill. Pay it.' That's no longer the case."

To achieve long-term savings, officials say the city has committed to about $7 million in new contracts to upgrade utilities that they hope will cut operating and maintenance costs.

"This allows us to take technology and new solutions to resolve problems with existing budgets," said J. Keith Scroggins, head of the Bureau of General Services.

Then there's turning off lights and computers, which represents the least amount of savings but was an obvious way for all city employees to do their part in energy conservation.

In 2002, OMalley unveiled Tighty Lighty. During a news conference to introduce the character, O'Malley described Tighty Lighty as able to leap consuming copy machines in a single bound; able to locate lost lumens of unused lighting in any office and to spot out-dated, energy-sucking screen savers on computers anywhere." A Citistat intern wearing a Tighty Lighty costume jumped around behind the mayor.

"It was one of his great moments in public service," O'Malley said yesterday.

Other energy-saving projects include upgrading of 1,300 city traffic lights to cheaper and longer-lasting bulbs and installing occupancy sensors that turn lights off when no one is in a room.

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