Jefferson Co. explores changes for energy efficiency

Ford Pavillion

Jefferson County commissioners and County Judge Jeff Branick are hoping to shave some utility costs off the budget by making energy efficient changes to county buildings where possible. The largest, and least intrusive, means of energy cost-savings, commissioners agree, will come in the form of upgrading light bulbs in many of the county’s facilities to LED (light emitting diodes) over traditional fluorescent bulbs.

During a workshop held Monday, Jan. 9, the elected commissioners brainstormed as to the best and most cost-effective and viable manner to address energy inefficiency noted in studies performed at the Ford Park Entertainment Complex and other county buildings and offices, ultimately deciding to seek cost analysis for implementing the lighting changes.

Although initially just set to ponder the energy study performed on Ford Park, Branick said he wanted to open up the discussion “for all county buildings.” Which was fine for the panel, they said, since energy efficiency is a concern for all the county’s departments.

According to Commissioner Brent Weaver, his precinct is already instituting change from fluorescent to LED bulbs, replacing the former with the latter whenever a new bulb is needed. While low-tech, the process is the right fit for his precinct needs, Weaver said.

“We’re kinda small,” he said. “There’s really not a large enough footprint to warrant any major overhaul.”

County auditor Patrick Swain said some of the county’s facilities were updated with LED lighting as part of a prior energy efficiency endeavor.

“They took the low hanging fruit first,” Swain said, adding that many larger and more complicated lighting projects are still in need of attention. Ford Park, for example, “wasn’t done then, because it was relatively new at the time,” Swain said.

While many of the county’s facilities can just change out a bulb and enjoy cost savings, that is not true for upgrading the lighting at Ford Park, according to Swain. Just for the exhibit hall and arena, the cost to change from fluorescent to LED is approximately $750,000, Swain said.

Branick said that the cost to install LED is outweighed by the cost savings garnered from switching light bulbs to LED – and not solely in utility bills.

“In addition to energy savings,” Branick said, “LED lasts 11 years or so, so savings on labor and materials is also going to be added benefit.”

Information provided for city of Beaumont deliberation on changing to LED lighting contends that LED bulbs use 48 percent less energy, last five times longer, and cut maintenance hours in half.

Purchasing agent Deborah Clark was tasked with seeking pricing estimates for LED upgrading at Ford Park, adult probation, the juvenile justice center, jail dorms, and airport main terminal. According to Clark, the county already has an existing contract with ICM, experts in LED lighting.

Although there was some concern about changing anything in the historic Jefferson County Courthouse, due to the oversight of the Texas Historical Commission, County Clerk Chief Deputy Theresa Goodness said she believes the commission will be in support of energy saving measures as long as they do not alter the building’s façade.