Cape Coral’s budget woes are no secret, but they could be even worse if not for reductions in the city’s electric bill to the tune of about $750,000 a year.
The savings are compared to 2008’s energy use, which the city uses as a baseline for its electricity reduction goal of 40 percent by 2025.
Oliver Clarke, an energy manager with the city, has overseen many of the energy improvements, working with 35 city departments to help them cut back on air conditioning, lighting and take other simple measures that all add up over time.
“Dealing with electricity is like working with a river of nickels. Everything you do is a nickel,” Clarke said. “If you care about the nickels, you can get the big money.”
One of the first, and most important, things he did was to make departments more aware of the amount of energy they use.
That allowed them to see how their actions affected the bottom line.
“When you get a bill at the end of the month, you won’t have any way of remembering what you’re doing that caused the bill to be so high,” he said.
At the emergency operations center, where energy use was more than twice the amount — per square foot — of City Hall, they implemented new air conditioning controls and increased the temperature when no one was there, he said.
At City Hall, more than 1,000 light bulbs have been removed that weren’t being used, he said. The thermostats at City Hall and the police department are also set at slightly higher temperatures.
The area with the biggest drop, Eagle Skate Park, has seen a 66 percent reduction in its electricity use largely by cutting back on the use of the large outdoor lights.
The total reductions equal the energy use of about 377 typical Cape Coral homes annually and have prevented more than 3,000 tons of coal from being burned to generate the power, Clarke said.
Since 2008, however, electricity prices climbed faster than the overall savings, so the city’s energy bills are actually higher, he said. But, had the city not implemented the reductions, he said, the bill would be $750,000 higher each year.
The city has spent $558,000 of its own money on energy reduction projects as well as $1.4 million in federal grant money, he said.
Cape Councilman Kevin McGrail said he was impressed by the efforts of city staff.
“Basically, every single individual employee has been tasked by Oliver Clarke and his staff with turning off the lights, treating it like it was your house and taking a personal commitment to helping save on utility costs,” McGrail said. “Every dollar that’s not spent is a dollar that we don’t need to tax.”