Cutting the cost of heat, power and light for county services by at least 20 percent, saving millions of taxpayer dollars, is the goal of Howard County’s new Energy Manager.
Leah Miller, most recently Montgomery County’s Sustainability Program Manager since 2016, is ready to start gathering utility billing information from county departments and agencies and then develop plans for improving energy efficiency.
“Howard County budgets approximately $10 million each year for electricity, natural gas, and propane,” said Miller. “From my experience in this field, I would expect that the county can reduce energy use by 20 percent or more over the next five years. Once we have completed the full analysis of the county’s energy usage and identified the top priorities to reduce energy use, I’ll have a better sense of exactly how much we can reduce energy use.”
Howard County has nearly 200 government buildings with 2.5 million square feet of space — and Miller is looking at ways to save energy in them all.
The energy manager position is part of a policy office that works closely with the county executive, Allan Kittleman. While energy conservation work is currently decentralized throughout several departments, Miller will work with a dozen or more staff across the county to centralize information, analyze data, develop new policies and programs as needed, and pull in grant funding, private partnerships, new technologies, and other resources to help make the county’s energy management as effective and efficient as possible.
One of Miller’s first tasks has been to collect utility billing information from several county departments and agencies. Once all of the information is in hand, she plans to look at the county’s energy use in specific buildings over several years and compare it to that of similar buildings nationwide to identify the best opportunities for improving energy efficiency.
Some examples of the county’s successful energy initiatives include solar on county-owned facilities, hybrid vehicles in the county’s fleet, electric vehicle charging stations at county facilities, and an Energy Performance Contract that financed energy efficiency upgrades in more than a third of the county’s buildings with no up-front costs.
Growing up in a community north of New York City, Miller has been concerned about the environment. She also worked in the non-profit community for the Izaak Walton League of America, Inc., one of the earliest national conservation organizations in the country.
While Miller’s job is to analyze the county’s energy efficiency programs and policies, and develop internal and public energy savings initiatives, she’s full of applicable and encouraging tips for businesses.
One of the most straightforward ways to save energy — aka money — is to invest in a lighting upgrade, she recommended, and if possible, to invest in LED lights that turn themselves out via motion sensors.
Next on her list is to have HVAC systems regularly inspected and maintained. Most lighting upgrades and building tune ups pay for themselves in energy savings within one or two years, she said.
She’s also a fan of the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program because it provides a means of financing energy-efficiency upgrades or renewable energy installations for residential, commercial and industrial property owners, and the loan is attached to the property rather than an individual.
There are also plenty of incentives offered by, among others, BGE and PEPCO. “If any business is not involved in an incentive program yet, they really should be,” Miller said. “The Maryland Energy Administration also has grants for businesses.”
In fact, there is a sea of energy-related opportunities,including solar, and part of Miller’s job is to help people navigate those waters.
Managing energy well also helps businesses become good stewards to the community. “Customers like to know their businesses are green,” Miller pointed out.