Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Wasted Energy

I abhor government waste, those taxpayer dollars free flowing out the walls, windows, roofs and cracks of our public buildings

I recently attended a City of Whitefish workshop on climate and the actions that the municipality may take over the coming years to cope with change.

I was struck by research that indicated nearly 40 percent of treated drinking water of the city never reaches the meters of households and commercial buildings.

That’s better than what Columbia Falls reported about their system at 52 percent leakage last year.

In both cities, it’s a lot of waste and energy that was used to treat water that never made it to the tap.

Much of the workshop conversation in Whitefish was refreshing. It’s not new; it brought me back 30 years to college days of energy efficiency, solar design, and the thermal transmission of structures.

Recently a wind-power generator announced that it would wholesale power to the Montana grid at 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s a triumphantly low price.

Estimates say once Whitefish builds a new federally mandated wastewater plant, municipal power for treatment could increase 300 percent. That sounds woefully inefficient. It’s probably not, more likely it’s that our town is treating the waste of hundreds of thousands of economy-boosting tourist each year.

An energy expert at the meeting discussed options for an eight-acre solar farm within town. That’s exciting. The efficiency of panels has increased big-time from when I was in college 30 years ago.

Time will tell what type of appetite Whitefish has for energy independence. But if the hydropower plant in Haskill Basin is any indication, free energy is not unrealistic.

Directly in front of Whitefish residents is an open house on its next public building. Voters approved over $26 million in taxpayer bonds last year, and school officials will review the new elementary school design shortly.

The discussions flash me back to college and talk about thermal transmission due to convection, conduction and radiation. What I’m talking about is heat flow per area, time, and temperature differentials. I know, it’s geeky.

As far as I could tell, most of the recently built public buildings that Whitefish has been fortunate enough to afford can not yet say how much energy the structures leak.

City Hall made tremendous progress on things like LED lighting, high efficiency heaters, and has taken good steps to audit design issues.

Our new high school, middle school, City Hall and emergency services buildings are magnificent looking and likely function very well for the personnel needs of a growing town, our kids, neighbors and businesses.

City buildings spent $113,000 on energy. That’s in one year. Project that number out a decade or two to see what basic energy design standards might be worth to taxpayers.

I’m very proud of my town, Whitefish.  I love the people, businesses and activism that make it a great place to live. Plus all that clean water, recreation and public lands conservation is fantastic. Locals are clearly willing to take a stand to keep Whitefish great.

But I abhor government waste, those taxpayer dollars free flowing out the walls, windows, roofs and cracks of our public buildings. It’s inexcusable. It’s a lot of ongoing maintenance money and taxes are already too high.

The City of Whitefish will host a public hearing on its climate plan to reduce energy waste. Likewise the Whitefish School District hosts an open house on our newest public building.

So far, little has been said about how efficient a design the next public structure will enjoy. How much will taxpayer energy bills be for the new school over the coming decade?

We want the school to function extremely well for our teachers and kids. But do tell us now, not later, what specific energy design the architects will be required use for Whitefish’s next public structure.

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