Portland finds itself in a position to save money if it is willing to spend it.

If the figures in a draft energy audit are correct, a $13.3 million investment would lower the city’s energy costs by $1 million a year. That would be more than enough to pay off the loan, while still giving the city savings of about $252,000, which could be used to reduce taxes or support programs.

Some could argue that a city that has just cut jobs and services while raising taxes is not in any position to borrow and spend. But imagine what better position Portland would have been in if it were not already spending so much on managing its buildings.

If the money that would be projected to be saved over and above the debt payments had been available this year, the city budget would have looked much different.

The City Council could have kept the Munjoy and Reiche branch libraries open. Or it could have kept two police officers at Peaks Island or reduced the impact of fee increases.

It could have reduced the number of school personnel that were laid off, or cut the tax increase in half.

It would have paid for the Fourth of July fireworks show five times over.

No one of any political stripe thinks wasting energy is a good idea. That’s why this investment in conservation should get unanimous support from the city’s leaders, if the consultants’ figures check out.

Among the recommendations are the kinds of projects that many home- owners are considering themselves. The report recommends changing the wattage on fluorescent lights and converting oil heating systems to natural gas.

Other improvements include new roofs and windows, solar water heaters, insulation and generally tightening up buildings.

What’s different is the scale. The city owns 51 buildings and spends $8 million a year to heat and light them. The biggest energy hogs include City Hall itself, which is 101 years old.

The payback on the projects would start as soon as they are accomplished. The gas conversion alone would cost about $700,000, but would pay for itself in three years. The savings could be more pronounced if oil prices were to spike.

This audit puts the city on the right track when it comes to energy use, and this is the kind of expenditure Portland can’t afford to miss.


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