Originally created 05/21/05

Cost of cooling off rises with mercury



Just as the temperature goes up, the energy cost to county governments is expected to rise as the need for air conditioning hits in a time of increasing power costs.

In Columbia County, the spring and summer months typically come with a large spike in power costs.

For example, in January the power bill for the county was $34,000. In April, it was $50,400. In July, the bill was $68,600.

"The impact of summertime cooling essentially raises (the county's) costs 50 percent," concluded Greg Woodlief, Columbia County's Procurement manager.

Mr. Woodlief said his department is working on its budget process and had projected the possibility that power rates might increase by as much as 10 percent.

"Theoretically, a 10 percent increase is huge," he said.

To help keep the county's costs down, he said, his office is considering installing electronic thermostats in county facilities that don't currently have them, to allow for an automatic shutoff or temperature control during off-business hours, thereby saving on cooling costs.

Georgia Power spokeswoman Konswello Monroe said her company is assessing its rate for Columbia and Richmond counties to determine whether it will rise for the coming year.

The Georgia Public Service Commission granted Georgia Power a 7.9 percent rate increase this week, which will raise the average residential customer's monthly bill about $6.39, but the utility negotiates rates with county governments separately.

Augusta-Richmond County Facilities Manager Rick Acree said projections for July already show that Richmond County will pay about $20,000 in energy costs for the month for the municipal building, $20,000 for the county jail on Walton Way, and about $13,000 for the Phinizy Road jail.

He said power use is "substantially higher" for the county during the summer months, anywhere from two to three times higher, and the figure should only go higher.

"We anticipate an increase (in rates)," he said. "I'm certain."

He said his office is constantly looking at ways to reduce energy consumption, having replaced the heating and air system in the county's municipal building two to three years ago.

He said the system in the jail on Walton Way is about 20 years old.

Although he said it isn't in need of repair, Mr. Acree said the system is larger than what is needed for the space of the jail because the current system was added in preparation for the addition of a tower to the jail.

"It was sized to handle that addition," he said. "There's nothing necessarily wrong with the unit. It's just it was not sized properly for the building to remain the size that it is."

To keep power use to a minimum, Georgia Power suggests several tips, including setting a thermostat at 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.

According to a Georgia Power news release, the company also suggests cleaning air conditioning filters regularly and making sure ceiling fans turn clockwise in the summer.

Greg Connell, the owner of A. Connell's Appliance Heating and Air in Martinez, said his company recently was hit with a higher demand for air conditioning service but the demand has come later than normal this year.

Mr. Connell suggests that homeowners have their air conditioning unit inspected twice a year.

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.