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Urban Energy Efficiency Efforts

Saving with retrofits and new designs


Juneau Airport renovation includes energy efficiency measures.

Photo courtesy of the Juneau Airport

Energy efficiency efforts in Alaska’s urban areas are saving money and energy. Select schools in Anchorage, a library in Homer, a health center in Fairbanks, and the airport in Juneau are a few public success stories where savings are being realized through energy efficiency programs for new and existing infrastructure.


Anchorage Schools

Historically, energy costs have been a huge expense for the Anchorage School District (ASD)—second only to the cost of personnel. “In an environment where energy costs are increasing, while at the same time available revenue to run critical programs is in question, it is important to administer resources to maximum efficiency,” says Andre Camara, Resource Conservation Manager (Energy & Waste Management) for Anchorage School District. “The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that most organizations can reduce energy usage by 20 percent through reasonable resource-conservation efforts. Through basic changes in operations, maintenance, and individual behavior, it is expected that the ASD can achieve substantial reductions in energy use.”

In five years, 2007-2012, according to Camara, ASD energy efficiency projects saved the district around $944,000.


  • 2007-2008: Eight ASD schools participated in a Pilot Energy Conservation Program that centered on low to no-cost energy efficiency measures. These measures included steps like turning lights off, closing blinds at the end of the day, and ensuring arctic entry doors were kept closed. These efforts saved $114,000 in energy costs in one year.
  • 2009 -2010: ASD measured and tracked the energy usage of its schools in order to benchmark energy usage and determine which schools had the highest energy consumption. The twenty-seven schools with the highest energy usage were selected for an intensive energy efficiency program. According to Camara, over the nine months following the implementation of this intensive program, these schools decreased energy usage by over $300,000.
  • 2010-2011: ASD introduced an incentive program that allowed some schools to receive 25 percent of their energy savings back. Fifty-two schools participated by implementing low or no-cost measures, saving a total of $530,000.
  • 2011-2012: Alaska Housing Finance Corporation assisted twenty-six ASD schools to participate in Investment Grade Audits through funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These reports are now being used to determine ASD’s future energy efficiency measures.


ASD also facilitates a series of resource conservation projects to decrease energy consumption demand and cost. These include an energy optimization project that reduces electricity demand by reprogramming the automation systems that run ASD facilities and replacing inefficient lighting fixtures with light-emitting diode (LED) automation lighting.


Homer Library

The Homer Public Library was the culmination of years of planning that included a series of workshops to gather input from residents; input that stated again and again the desire for a library that reflected the community’s values of sustainability. Ann Dixon, director of Homer Public Library, says, “Many Homer residents are interested in self-sufficiency, resource conservation, and wise use of natural resources. This building was a chance to put those values into practice, and as such, make a statement about community values.”

These community workshops led to the decision to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the new library. “At the time LEED standards were getting a lot of attention. It was a no-brainer that a new public building should be energy-efficient and be built for the future, with low operation and maintenance costs for the city,” says Homer resident and artist Nancy Lord, who was very involved in the planning of the new library.

The passive solar building takes full advantage of the local climate; its walls, floors, and windows were designed to gather, store, and distribute solar energy to heat the library in the winter and reject solar heat in the summer. Special attention was given to window placement and glazing types, shading, and thermal insulation. Using window placement, passive solar techniques also take full advantage of natural light, reducing the need for electric lighting. It uses occupancy and daylight sensors to control electric lighting and ensure it is used only as needed.

Dixon says the energy efficiency measures have been effective. “The most obvious benefit is of course monetary savings in operations. Until this fall, Homer has relied on expensive oil heat, so energy efficient construction only makes sense. While it hasn’t been inexpensive to heat the library, the cost has been reasonable in terms of the size and quality of the facility, as well as the heavy use by the public.”


Fairbanks Health Center

With some of the highest utility costs in the nation, energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important in Fairbanks. The Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center is a model building in energy efficient construction and environmental building systems. This facility, constructed under a Joint Venture Construction Program between the TCC and the federal Indian Health Service (IHS), is the first LEED Gold certified health center in Alaska.

Initially LEED Silver certification was planned. Arcadis Project Manager Glen Kravitz wrote in an email that “IHS funding required LEED Silver certification and TCC leadership asked the question: ‘What would it take to achieve LEED Gold?’ After being presented with the additional LEED requirements and probable costs, TCC said ‘go for it.’ With the owner fully committed to achieving a higher standard of energy efficiency beyond what was required, the owner, design team, contractor, city, and borough… and all of us at Arcadis got together and worked collaboratively to make it happen.”

This collaborative design team also included Bettisworth North Architects and Planners (Prime Architects and landscape architects), NBBJ (medical planners, design architects, and LEED consultants), Jones and Jones (cultural design advisors and landscape architects), Design Alaska (mechanical engineers), Martha Hanlon (medical facility and equipment planner), and PDC Inc. Engineers (civil, structural, electrical engineers). Ghemm Company was the general contractor.

The Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center includes an abundance of energy efficiency measures. The building is heated by waste hot water from the local power plant using variable speed pumps to match building heating demand loads. The exterior walls and roof system have high thermal resistance rating. Low-flow plumbing fixtures conserve water. Variable air volume air-handlers reduce energy used for ventilation, heating, and cooling the building. An energy efficient heat recovery ventilation system provides fresh air and improved climate control. Energy efficient light fixtures and a lighting control system are used throughout the building to optimize lighting with less electricity use.


Juneau Airport

In 2008, the City and Borough of Juneau began the Airport Terminal Renovation and Expansion Project, a multi-phase project, with help from the Alaska Energy Authority.

“As the project began, airport staff and design consultants focused on the goal of reducing operating costs at the airport,” says Catherine Fritz, airport architect. “Energy efficiency measures can, and in my opinion, should be applied everywhere and in all buildings in Alaska. It is now understood that energy is a valuable resource that critically influences many short- and long-term decisions that communities and individuals face.”

The airport’s energy efficiency efforts include a system that is programmed to the use patterns of the facility, allowing heat pumps to respond to the specific cooling and heating needs of smaller areas within the terminal, rather than maintaining one temperature. Other efforts include new energy efficient lighting systems, new windows to improve weatherization, and a light refracting awning.

“Areas of new construction have a modern thermal envelope that includes high performance glass and roof insulation of approximately R-50,” Fritz says. “Existing building areas were upgraded with contemporary lighting [including LEDs], light shelves in the southern facing departure lounge, improved efficiency plumbing fixtures, as well as the geothermal electric heat pump system throughout the areas affected by construction to date.”

The Juneau Airport ground source heat pump transfers geothermal energy into a liquid-filled piping loop which provides the energy necessary to heat and cool the facilities, provide hot water, and maintain an ice-melt system in the sidewalks.

“A primary benefit at the airport has been the reduction of fuel costs, which has allowed operating funds to be used for other important uses,” Fritz says, adding that the annual operational cost savings are approximately $100,000. “We have gained significant confidence in trying new systems, understanding more about the total picture of energy usage in our building.”


Public Retrofits

Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) is a public corporation in Alaska that provides finance, housing, and energy programs throughout the state. AHFC’s programs include a series of programs focused on improving energy efficiency in public buildings throughout Alaska.

According to John Anderson, AHFC operations officer, Research and Rural Development, the corporation began providing energy efficiency programs in the early 1990s, beginning with a federal Department of Energy weatherization program.

“Our key philosophy is that energy efficiency is the foundation to energy supply,” Anderson says. “Regardless of the source, using less energy saves money, extends supply, and has shown to be a motivating factor for energy efficient improvements due to the cost of energy.”

The Alaska Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund (AEERLP) is one of AHFC’s energy efficiency programs and focuses on publically owned buildings. AEERLP pays for retrofits to improve the energy efficiency of these buildings. Anderson says AEERLP “provides financing for permanent energy-efficient improvements to buildings owned by regional educational attendance areas, the University of Alaska, the state, or municipalities in the state.”

Eliza Evans is an Alaskan author.

This first appeared in the December 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.
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