Midwest City Uses Performance Contract to Decarbonize

Sept. 22, 2021
Any governmental or non-governmental entity can access the funding mechanism, says Johnson Controls smart cities specialist.

Johnson Controls is installing solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy efficiency infrastructure at various City of La Crosse facilities to expand the western Wisconsin city’s sustainability program.

The second phase of an initiative La Crosse began in 2019, the latest round will entail Johnson Controls installing solar PV arrays and energy efficiency applications at La Crosse fire stations, libraries, and city parks and making LED street lighting upgrades, Johnson Controls reported recently. Within a 20-year span La Crosse stands to reduce energy consumption in multiple city buildings by more than one-third, generate $11 million in energy savings, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 900 metric tons, the building technology provider added.

“We are proud to partner with the City of La Crosse and help them reach their carbon neutrality pledge without raising taxes," commented Mark Reinbold, vice president and general manager of Johnson Controls Performance Infrastructure unit.

The company is executing the multiphase project with the city through a performance contract. It explained the funding mechanism uses operational energy cost savings over time to help fund the improvements, which amount to more than $9 million in investments without diverting from the city’s capital budget. The firm added that more than $360,000 in locally available grants provided partial funding.

“This project has been divided into multiple phases, all of which are driven by Johnson Controls OpenBlue suite of solutions,” said Lisa Brown, Johnson Controls’ senior national director of municipal infrastructure and smart cities. “During the initial phase, Johnson Controls focused on the installation of four 100-kilowatt (kW) solar PV arrays at the La Crosse Center, City Hall, the La Crosse main public library and Municipal Service Center. These arrays are expected to reduce energy consumption by 35% in these facilities.”

Brown pointed out the most recent phase will incorporate three more solar PV arrays at fire stations and a public park.

“To drive further efficiency, we will upgrade street lighting with LED technology and implement additional energy-saving solutions at key city facilities and parks,” Brown noted. “The convergence of all phases of the project leaves the City of La Crosse with a connected environment that improves the health, safety, and quality of life of the community.”

Read on for Brown’s insights about Johnson Control’s ongoing work in La Crosse, starting with why solar is suitable in a location not commonly associated with abundant year-round sunshine.

EnergyTech: Why solar for a city in Wisconsin, which is known for its long winters? What were other options, and why did solar win out?

Lisa Brown: With this project, and with most of our projects, we focus on how to make solar energy work for a city rather than the other way around. Wisconsin ranks in the middle of all U.S. states for number of peak sun hours, but number of sun hours daily is not the only factor that makes a solar energy system successful. To maximize the available sunlight, we took note of panel orientation and angle, both of which can raise the amount of energy intake and are factors that we can control.

Since the City of La Crosse is determined to meet their goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050, and we’ve already seen so much success with similar initiatives in the Midwest, we felt that solar energy was the best option to help the city meet its goals. With solar PV systems’ limited effects on the environment by producing no air pollutants or carbon dioxide, we thought this was the right system to meet La Crosse’s ambitious goals.

ET: Please briefly describe what a performance contract is and when it makes sense for a municipality (or other governmental or non-governmental entity) to advance sustainability initiatives?

Brown: A performance contract is a great way to add energy efficiency retrofits to projects both in and outside of the public sector. Driven by legislation at the local and state level, these contracts guarantee energy and operational savings that can fund infrastructure improvement projects over time through an agreed upon financial arrangement. The main benefit of this approach is that municipalities will see increased results in energy reductions and lower long-term operating costs while retaining capital that can be redirected elsewhere and mitigating project risk.

Any governmental or non-governmental entity has access to this type of funding. It should be used when they’re ready to commit to infrastructure projects but don’t want to undertake a high financial risk.

ET: What sort of additional risk is Johnson Controls taking on with this project, and what’s the company’s potential payoff?

Brown: One of the biggest advantages of any innovative procurement method, such as a performance contract, is risk mitigation. With this project, Johnson Controls assumes financial risk, from financial burdens to guaranteed energy and operational savings, allowing the City of La Crosse to make critical sustainability upgrades without affecting their capital budget. Aside from the financial risk, our team also assumes responsibility to ensure the project proceeds safely and on schedule. With one common goal in mind, we’re happy to take care of the upfront risks knowing that by project completion we’ll be part of a long-term solution that’s creating a more sustainable community.

Helping the City of La Crosse create sustainable infrastructure is our biggest payoff. Our goal at Johnson Controls is to create smart, healthy, and sustainable buildings for a healthier planet and people – we are happy to facilitate this in whatever way we can.

ET: What do you see as the most challenging and exciting aspects of this project?

Brown: The most exciting aspect of this project is getting to facilitate a great city’s mission to create a better future for their community. We look forward to sharing their wins and to continuing the momentum we’ve already created. In total, the multi-phase project is expected to generate a combined $11 million in total energy savings.

With this project, we were challenged to deliver decarbonization solutions without raising taxes, and by leveraging a performance contract and $360,000 in local grants, we will be able to make over $9 million in investments without impacting taxpayers. So many cities face this same obstacle when approaching their sustainability targets, but with the right funding method they can prioritize net-zero facilities without costing taxpayers.

ET: Would you like to add any comments for our audience, which includes large-scale commercial and industrial energy consumers?

Brown: As the leader in smart, healthy, and sustainable buildings, we encourage all large energy users to find where improvements can be made to their infrastructure. Creating climate goals for your buildings can have a great impact and create space in your community to put health and safety first. Investing in sustainability can also have a profound effect on reducing utility and operational costs, modernizing infrastructure, and creating long-term energy resiliency. We urge those who are thinking about their 2022 goals to consider including environmental targets like carbon neutrality or renewable energy pledges. With performance contracting and other funding plans available to a wide variety of sectors, there’s never been a better time to create connected, sustainable buildings. 

About the Author

Rod Walton, EnergyTech Managing Editor | Senior Editor

For EnergyTech editorial inquiries, please contact Managing Editor Rod Walton at [email protected].

Rod Walton has spent 15 years covering the energy industry as a newspaper and trade journalist. He formerly was energy writer and business editor at the Tulsa World. Later, he spent six years covering the electricity power sector for Pennwell and Clarion Events. He joined Endeavor and EnergyTech in November 2021.

Walton earned his Bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. His career stops include the Moore American, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, Wagoner Tribune and Tulsa World. 

EnergyTech is focused on the mission critical and large-scale energy users and their sustainability and resiliency goals. These include the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as the military, universities, data centers and microgrids. The C&I sectors together account for close to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

He was named Managing Editor for Microgrid Knowledge and EnergyTech starting July 1, 2023

Many large-scale energy users such as Fortune 500 companies, and mission-critical users such as military bases, universities, healthcare facilities, public safety and data centers, shifting their energy priorities to reach net-zero carbon goals within the coming decades. These include plans for renewable energy power purchase agreements, but also on-site resiliency projects such as microgrids, combined heat and power, rooftop solar, energy storage, digitalization and building efficiency upgrades.