The City of Lexington, KY was founded in 1775 and named to honor the first battle of the American Revolution, which took place in Lexington, MA. Nearly 200 years later, the governments of the City of Lexington and Fayette County merged to form Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG), a municipality with nearly 324,000 residents. To serve its citizens, the government manages hundreds of utility accounts spread across the county. In round numbers, the infrastructure includes two wastewater treatment plants, 70 pump stations, 90 buildings, 100 public parks, 500 traffic controllers, and 30,000 streetlights.
Utility management is conducted by the Energy Initiatives Section, a three-person team within the Department of Environmental Quality & Public Works. The availability of ARRA funding made it possible for LFUCG to move away from its decentralized energy management program to a centralized program founded on the EnergyCAP utility bill accounting and energy management platform. The Energy Section is now able to serve and communicate effectively at all government levels, across multiple disciplines, and have documented newsworthy energy and cost savings.
Prior to 2010, the county’s utility management was “decentralized and based on bill payment,” according to James Bush, LFUCG’s Energy Initiatives Section Leader. Analyzing energy use and cost at a granular level was difficult, because the available data typically reflected data that was rolled-up at a collective bill or divisional level. James explained, “A bill would have to be large enough that you’d remember it being atypical for it to get flagged for review.”
In order to effectively carry out his mission of energy and cost savings, James knew that he had to have access to the county’s utility data at a much more granular level. He quickly established the criteria for a new tracking system: off-the-shelf web-based service, an energy & utility focus, easy data import & export, broad analytical capabilities, and extensive reporting functionality. The Great Recession, which was just starting to ease in 2009, had forced government and commercial entities to focus on cost savings, and rapidly rising energy costs and environmental concerns put energy conservation at the forefront for public and private organizations. James understood the value of his charter and was up to the challenge.
Funding provided under the American Reinvestment & Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009 enabled LFUCG to issue a public bid for a utility bill accounting and energy management solution. Proposals were received from a half-dozen vendors, the list was narrowed to three finalists, and per James, “EnergyCAP won out on both cost and performance. And we’ve been very pleased since then.”
Prior to the RFP process, James modeled the solution the county would need in Microsoft Access. James said he re-visits the Access-based solution occasionally, and it reminds him that “You could do this on your own, stitching together all these various databases and inventories that people have collected around your organization, but it’s just not pretty. Nor is it easy to use.” EnergyCAP has enabled the county to centralize their utility data in one database, and LFUCG now uses EnergyCAP to manage more than 1,200 electric, water, and natural gas accounts with an annual spend of nearly $19 million. About 98% of the county’s utility bills are imported into EnergyCAP via spreadsheets, with county personnel manually entering data for only about 30 accounts. After the data is entered, it’s automatically audited by EnergyCAP, and upon approval by the Energy Initiatives staff, utility reports are automatically distributed to government stakeholders. “The reports,” James noted, “are coded so each operations group gets information that’s germane to them.”
The county realized immediate benefits from implementing EnergyCAP, the biggest of which, per James, was being able to “see the data at the meter level. Now we have the cost and use, when it was used, and rate code.” Having access to detailed meter-level data enabled county staff to identify unknown meters, unused meters, and meters assigned to incorrect budgets or addresses. After verifying each meter, the county was able to “right-size” more than 500 electric meters—assign the best and most appropriate rate schedule. The action produced annual savings of $706,000 in 2012. In addition, EnergyCAP highlighted disparities in natural gas rates, which led the county to issue an RFP for bulk pricing, reducing costs $230,000 in the first year.
EnergyCAP operates as a centralized, “intuitive front-end for utilities and energy” that is transparent and available to anyone within the county government, and that builds trust among county personnel. As a result, the Energy Initiatives Section is now the go-to data source for utility data, budget forecasts, and operating costs for capital projects. Access to detailed energy data has also enabled the county to be more proactive with equipment maintenance and replacement. Rather than wait for equipment to fail to gain efficiency, the county now has the information it needs to justify replacements when it makes sense.
James has referred to EnergyCAP as “Lexington’s Rosetta Stone,” because it makes it easy for his team to communicate with its three county audiences: Facilities, Accounting, and Budgeting. The Facilities staff can quickly see electricity use at a specific building, monitor year-to-year cost changes at a public park, or identify how many gas accounts serve a particular area. Accounting can use EnergyCAP to reconcile payments, dig deeper into a summary bill, and confirm account accuracy. The Budgeting team uses EnergyCAP to charge back every facility meter to the appropriate county budget, track energy use and cost by division or department, and more accurately forecast utility costs.
The next step in the evolution of EnergyCAP at LFUCG is to broaden the use of real-time energy data. Whole-building interval meters have been installed at larger county facilities, enabling the Energy Initiatives team to analyze energy use and power quality in more detail. And at locations with multiple buildings, submeters have been installed to better understand shared energy use. EnergyCAP’s Chargeback functionality can be used to allocate energy use and costs to different departments. James noted that he expects to realize even greater energy and cost savings through the detailed consumption monitoring that EnergyCAP’s interval data analysis functionality provides. He is excited about EnergyCAP’s on-going development, adding that, with the new features and added functionality, he “feels like it’s 2010 all over again.”
A worldwide recession, rising costs, and a heightened focus on the environment made energy conservation a high priority for local governments in 2009, and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government was no exception. The city hired its first dedicated energy manager and leveraged federal funding to establish a centralized energy management program with EnergyCAP at its core. Over the past decade, LFUCG’s Energy team have produced admirable energy and cost savings through streamlined utility bill processing, diligent analysis, prompt action, and effective government-wide communication.
We thank James Bush, Director, Sr. Program Manager, Energy Initiatives, for his assistance in the development of this case study.
James City County was formally created in 1634 as James City Shire by order of King Charles I. It is considered one of only five original shires of Virginia to have retained virtually the same political form. The population of the County is approximately 70,000.