Backed by almost $10 million in federal money, Dane County Regional Airport is building what could be the greenest garage in the state.
The 58,800-square-foot Snow Removal Equipment Building will include a 100-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic system, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and water-efficient plumbing fixtures, among other sustainable features. It is the largest municipal solar project in the state, according to the airport.
The building requires a lot of green, however, as it will cost $13 million to construct and $1.2 million to design.
Why spend all that money on what is, primarily (there is some office space, as well), a large garage?
“Why not?” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.
As Parisi, a strong proponent of the county’s push for sustainable construction, explained, there is federal money available for sustainable projects, which, he said, help the environment, save taxpayer money by decreasing energy costs and create construction jobs.
“It would be irresponsible not to look at these options,” he said.
The new building will more than double the space available for equipment storage, airport spokesman Brent McHenry said, and that is the primary focus of the project. But a larger garage surely could have been built for less than $14.2 million. Why this push to green a garage?
Parisi said he thinks it’s important for government to support emerging industries, such as solar, because they create new job opportunities.
“I’m confident in the solar industry,” he said. “The prices are coming down and units are becoming more efficient every year. There’s no guarantee about energy prices from other sources, but solar prices are going down.”
And by investing in solar projects the county can, over time, he said, save money on energy bills. The county did an analysis, Parisi said, of a $500,000 Energy Efficient and Conservation Block Grant that went toward other sustainable projects in the area. The county now is saving $105,000 a year, he said, on operating costs because of the energy-saving building components paid for by the grant money.
“It doesn’t take long to break even on the initial investment,” Parisi said.
In that case, yes, but airport officials do not have an estimate on how much money will be saved by the new garage’s green elements. It will take a lot more savings to pay off $14.2 million.
Airport officials expect the solar roof to generate 50 percent of the building’s required energy, and it could generate even more on strong sun days, McHenry said, but no figures immediately were available to show what that will mean in savings.
As with the EECBG money, however, the county and airport are being careful to evaluate the long-term efficiencies their sustainable building investments create. The airport is two-thirds of the way through an evaluation of existing sustainable elements, McHenry said, such as the low-flow plumbing added during a terminal renovation in 2006. The evaluation tracks electrical and natural gas use, as well as recycling and waste creation.
“We’re real aggressive on being on top of what we’re doing,” he said. “I think, yes, many of the things we’ve done will make a difference … and we’ll have good hard data soon.”
The county is considering adding solar to such other properties as pavilion buildings at Alliant Energy Center and a new highway garage, Parisi said, and it will continue to evaluate its green spending, as well.
“We’ve seen a return on our investments,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to look at efficiency, and what’s next on how to make investments.”
And as long as there is government money available to pay for projects that reduce operating costs and create jobs, Parisi said, there’s no reason not to keep doing the work.
“It’s not a question of ‘Why?’ but ‘Why not?’” he said. “Money is just sitting there waiting to be saved.”
Until there’s data to prove how much money is saved, however, Dane County’s new garage just might be green for the sake of it.
Caley Clinton makes her green as the associate editor of The Daily Reporter.