Alexander County to upgrade its energy system - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Alexander County to upgrade its energy system

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CAIRO -- Alexander County is moving forward with an innovative plan that could make it one of the most energy-efficient counties in Illinois.

The county is upgrading its buildings' energy systems in order to save money.

As Alexander County Board Chairman, Chalen Tatum spends a lot of hours worrying about the county's tight finances.

"Everything goes up. Nothing ever comes down," said Tatum. "We just don't have the money to keep our bills paid. Anything that we can look to save money, that's a plus."

Feeling frustrated, Tatum went on a mission, looking for a way to help the county that's often labeled "the poorest in Illinois" save money.

He stumbled upon a website from a company called SmartWatt.

The company helps local governments across the country upgrade their buildings' energy systems to save money.

SmartWatt will upgrade the lighting, heating and cooling, windows and doors at the four buildings Alexander County manages. 

In addition, the courthouse will have solar panels installed on its roof. 

Tatum said all of that should cost about half a million dollars, but the county won't pay any upfront costs. Instead, SmartWatt will rely on state grants.

A portion of the savings the county will get from those lower energy bills will pay off the rest.

"They're saying 44 percent savings on utility bills and that's pretty huge," said Tatum. 

SmartWatt said it guarantees its savings estimates. 

"They're not just doing the project and hoping that the savings is what we said it's going to be. It actually has to be or we're held accountable for that," said Orry Cummings, account executive of SmartWatt's Midwest business unit.

This week, the company, which launched in 2002 in Albany, NY, installed censors to get an idea of how often certain rooms are used and how long the lights are left on in the county's buildings.

The information will help SmartWatt tailor its plan for each of the county's buildings.

"This project will create long-term savings for our taxpayers and will help stabilize Alexander County's budget for decades to come," said Tatum.

Tatum says the work should start in the next several weeks and Cummings says it should take two to three months to complete.

Cummings said SmartWatt is also working with Pulaski County on a similar project.

"Not a lot of our competitors are taking the time to come down to southern Illinois to focus on this area," said Cummings. "It's definitely an area that has a lot of need for some of these infrastructure improvements, so we're happy to come help out as much as we can."

Cummings invites other officials who are interested in learning more about SmartWatt to call 207-831-0444.

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