Approximately one million tons of carbon dioxide are produced each year from energy consumed by Fairfax County, Va., government facilities, and among county agencies, the Park Authority manages the third largest inventory of sites and facilities.
The Authority identified energy management in its 2006-2010 strategic plan as a means to:
• Improve facility lifecycle management
• Seek cost-saving opportunities.
As the agency continues to endure difficult fiscal realities, the decision to find savings through energy conservation is paying dividends.
A Bright Idea
In 2008, the Park Authority completed its first major energy project when a new state-of-the-art lighting and control system was installed at Providence RECenter in Falls Church. Five months later, the site manager reported a 60-percent decrease in energy use in areas where the new lights were installed.
Not only did the new lighting system reduce the facility’s carbon footprint by using less energy, but the rec center also saw an overall 20-percent decrease in electricity costs. The Authority’s energy manager estimates that savings on utility bills will repay the agency’s initial investment in these lighting upgrades within three years.
“The new lights are amazing,” says the center’s aquatic supervisor, Ginger Colon. “All the patrons love the way the natatorium looks.”
The Road To Conservation
In October 2007, the Park Authority’s operations division hired its first energy manager, Davood Majidian, CEM, to develop and implement an agency-wide energy-management plan to guide the agency in its efforts to increase energy conservation, lower utilities costs, and reduce carbon emissions.
An energy-management policy was revised and adopted in March 2008, recognizing that the interrelated issues of energy, economics and the environment have a profound effect on the delivery of park and recreation services.
Asked what is needed to successfully implement an energy-management plan, Majdian replies, “Support, cooperation, technology, and operational control are important elements in energy-management improvements, and the park authority deploys them all in its efforts.”
He adds, “Monitoring and benchmarking of energy usage, raising awareness about energy conservation, and working closely with development, maintenance, and operations teams will ensure that park authority facilities continue to become more efficient.”
A county-wide energy policy adopted in September 2009 includes an energy-reduction target of a minimum of 1 percent per year.
Since the initial success of the lighting project at Providence RECenter, other sites have been similarly retrofitted. For instance, Lee District RECenter in Franconia, Va., will reduce its energy use by an estimated 60 percent once all lighting and sensors have been installed. A new control system in the gymnasium will reduce the amount of time the lights are on by 79 percent.
Repainted walls in the pool area add to the improved illumination.
At South Run RECenter in Springfield, Va., underwater bulbs in the pool were replaced with brighter, more-efficient LED lights. Manager Laura Marquardt says, “From a management standpoint, I would definitely say that the underwater lights in the pool have made the pool look more clear, clean and bright. And in the racquetball court the lights have made the room brighter, and the controls have significantly reduced the time the lights are on.”
The site’s indoor field house and pool are on the list to be retrofitted with new lights and controls.
Customers at Mount Vernon RECenter in Alexandria, Va., have noticed the difference that the new lights have made. Manager Trina Taylor says, “ When customers who were used to the old look of the area first saw the new lighting, the most typical remark was, ‘It looks like a brand new pool.’ Given that it's still the same 29-year-old pool, it was the best compliment that could be given. The area has gone from a dungeon-like atmosphere to a bright, dynamic environment.”
Planning is underway to retrofit the indoor ice rink with a new lighting and control system as well.
The lighting projects are not limited to only the rec centers, however. A new daylight-harvesting control system installed at Herndon’s Frying Pan Farm Park’s Activity Center regulates the amount of artificial lighting based on the level of available natural light streaming in from windows and skylights. On sunny days, the activity center reduces energy consumption from excessive lighting by 80 percent. Parking-lot and exterior lights at the farm’s visitor center were also upgraded.
“Lighting contributes to the ambience of a location or facility. The new lights not only save us money and greatly improve security by eliminating dark areas, but they also make the parking lots around the facilities warm and inviting,” says Tawny Hammond, manager of the preserved 1930s farm.
Dimming More Lights
The Park Authority has several more projects on the horizon and has secured more than $500,000 in funding from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG), a federal grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Funding will support outdoor lighting and control projects on parking lots, trails, tennis courts and building exterior lights. The Authority will also allocate EECBG funds for Web-based lighting controls on more than 20 athletic fields at nine parks.
While lighting and control systems are a large part of the current plan, the agency is also considering automated energy management for mechanical systems and evaluating solar-thermal and geothermal systems for use in renewable-energy solutions. Moving forward, the Park Authority’s plan will continue to rely on a high level of cooperation among its divisions. If the past few years are any indication, Authority facilities will continue to reduce carbon emissions and see dramatic decreases in energy usage and utility costs.
Matthew Kaiser is the Deputy Public Information Officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. He can be reached via e-mail at Matthew.Kaiser@fairfaxcounty.gov.