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Addition of solar water heaters wraps up two years of improvements at Fulton County Hospital

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fulton County Hospital Administrator Tony Thompson and Plant Operations Director Jackie Orr look at one of two solar panels recently installed on the hospital roof. The panels will provide energy for a recently completed solar water heating system, which should dramatically reduce the hospital's electric bill. Thompson and Orr are standing on another energy efficiency project -- a special coating applied to the roof to reduce cooling costs by deflecting the sun's heat. [Order this photo]
Spending $400,000 is not as easy as you might think.

Two years after the Fulton County Hospital received a $428,989 grant, the last of a series of projects to make the facility more energy efficient is finally completed.

"A solar water heating system has been installed in the hospital. The work was finished on July 30, and it should cut the amount we have been spending to operate electric water heaters," FCH Plant Operations Director Jackie Orr said.

The week of July 23, a Little Rock company installed two solar collectors on the roof of the hospital. A substance called glycol is pumped through piping into the solar collectors, where it collects energy and transfers the heat to water stored in the electric water heaters inside the hospital.

"Yesterday (July 31), I kept an eye on the system, and I didn't see the electric water heaters ever kick on," Orr said. "The solar heaters will work for most of the year but, during periods where there's less heat and sunlight, the electric water heaters will automatically kick on to get water to the proper temperature."

In late June of 2010, the Arkansas Energy Office announced it was distributing $6 million dollars in federal stimulus money, earmarked for "green" projects that would save energy consumption.

"We heard Arkansas was going to get energy grant money, but it was a good year and a half before we got a binder, about four inches thick, explaining how the grant program worked," Jerry Estes, of North Arkansas Electric, told The News.

Even more time passed before Estes, who was a hospital board member in 2010, was able to get an application from the Arkansas Energy Office, and just applying for the grant was a time consuming process.

"We went into the hospital and looked for improvements that would help the hospital, and had to document the need for the work and how much energy savings would result," Estes said.

The projects listed in the grant application included:

* finishing a roofing project and applying an energy efficient coating, topped with special man--made rock to deflect the sun's heat

*installing new air conditioning and heating units

*installing solar water heaters

*installing new Energy Star high efficiency appliances in the kitchen

*installing energy saving lighting throughout the hospital

According to Estes, part of the grant money was allocated to small cities, raising hopes that the hospital would be awarded some of the funds.

"I remember that Sherry Jackson (Member Services Coordinator) worked on it (the grant) until the last minute," Estes recalled. "After working all night, she took off to Little Rock at 6 a.m. to deliver the application by the deadline. When she came back, she said a lot of applications had come in, and ours was placed on a pallet load of other applications. After doing all that work, it made me feel like we didn't have a prayer."

So, there was a lot of excitement when it was announced in June of 2010 that the Fulton County Hospital had been awarded the $428,989.

"The grant applications were judged on a point system, and I think it helped that we added the solar water heaters. Having a renewable energy project helped raise our score," Estes added.

The fact Fulton County was approved for all of the projects it requested -- $400,000 of the $6 million distributed -- was really surprising.

"Our application was obviously viewed pretty favorably," Estes said.

Hospital officials say, since all of the projects were aimed at cutting energy consumption, the hospital is definitely more energy efficient, and employees, patients and visitors should be much more comfortable, considering old, inefficient heating and air conditioning systems which were replaced.

In the new fiscal year budget, Administrator Tony Thompson reduced the hospital's estimated electric bill by four percent, because of anticipated savings from the solar water heaters.

In 2010, hospital officials were most excited about the opportunity to get a new dishwasher, freezer, stove, icemaker and steam table for their kitchen.

"Upgrading the kitchen is especially important," then- Administrator Joe Hammond said. "Most of the current appliances date back to around 1963, when the hospital was built."

Orr said the hospital got a lot of benefit from the grant money, and did not have to put up any matching funds, which is a requirement of many grants. The hospital maintenance staff helped save money by providing in-kind services, such as installing the new lighting throughout the hospital.

When it came time to install the solar water heaters, the hospital was about $45,000 short, so the Arkansas Energy Office assisted with an additional allocation, so the books could finally be closed on the Fulton County Hospital grant program.

"We did five projects through the grant, and each one was considered a separate project," Orr said. "Now that everything is done, I will monitor our electric consumption and determine how much we have cut our usage, and how much money we are saving. We should see a big difference. When we got the energy coating on the roof, we noticed right away that the building was easier to cool, because heat was being deflected. "

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