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LifeCare Medical Center

The LifeCare Medical Center is achieving significant energy savings, thanks to the installation of variable frequency motor drives and controls for its ventilation system.

Case Study: LifeCare Medical Center, Roseau, Minn.

Ventilation upgrades yield huge energy savings for medical center

The LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau includes a 25-bed critical access hospital, long-term care, home care, hospice, and rehabilitation services throughout the region. The 130,000 square-foot, brick and mortar main campus building was constructed in 1962 and has had five additions over the years to serve expanding needs.  

Objectives. The building’s ventilation system had consisted of fans, all running constantly at full capacity. This was a huge energy drain, contributing to high electric bills. So, LifeCare sought to upgrade its old ventilation system.

Implementation. Variable frequency motor drives (VFDs) and automated control systems were installed on most of the fans to reduce the speed when full capacity is not needed. Ventilation motors with a total capacity of 60 horsepower were fitted with VFDs and controls. Since the project was completed, LifeCare has installed four more VFDs and controllers in the ventilation system.

Energy savings. Energy cost savings for the whole building are difficult to quantify, because of the large amount of electricity and natural gas used for the non-heating and cooling activities of the hospital complex. But the estimated annual savings for the first six VFDs was nearly 200,000 kWh, with annual cost savings of more than $14,000—for just a portion of the building.

To track actual savings, Chancey Otto, LifeCare’s maintenance electrician, took advantage of the fact that part of the main campus building is leased to Altru Health Systems of Grand Forks for its physician practice. This clinic space is on a dedicated meter for both natural gas and electricity for billing purposes. “The electrical and gas usage of this particular space is mainly due to heating and cooling activities, and cost savings are more easily identified,” said Otto. In April 2012, three more VFDs were added to ventilation system motors for that particular part of the main campus building. With those upgrades, the cost of electricity for April through September 2012 was reduced by $8,300; natural gas savings for the same time period was $7,400. 

Funding. An Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Energy paid for about half of the $50,000 project. The grant was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal stimulus package designed to save energy and create jobs. LifeCare also received an energy conservation rebate from the City of Roseau, which buys power from Roseau Electric Cooperative. Roseau Electric offers rebate programs for its residential and business customers. Similar rebate programs are available to customers of 17 participating municipalities and cooperative members of Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc. and the Northern Municipal Power Agency.

Documenting results: How healthcare facilities can track energy use. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) national rating system is available to track energy use and compare it to other healthcare facilities nationwide. Using data that is easily inputted online, the system produces a baseline rating from 1 to 100. Once a building has established this baseline, ENERGY STAR®’s tools and resources can prioritize investments, set goals, and track management success. The national rating system can be accessed online through ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager. The ENERGY STAR energy performance scale accounts for differences in operating conditions, regional weather data, and other important considerations. 

All healthcare buildings can measure, track, and assess their energy performance using Portfolio Manager. Additionally, hospitals, medical office buildings, and senior care communities can score their energy performance. The Healthcare Benchmarking Starter Kit provides tools to help get started benchmarking and assist in data collection. 

Resources for healthcare building projects. Public or private building owners seeking to conserve electricity or natural gas are encouraged to work with their local natural gas or electric utility. Utilities can help with building assessments and may provide rebates for energy efficiency improvements.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources (DER) provides technical support to public healthcare facilities seeking energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. Contact DER to discuss which of its energy efficiency programs can be of help.

EPA, through its ENERGY STAR program, provides partners with guidelines for superior energy management built on the practices of industry leaders. The ENERGY STAR for Healthcare website provides guidelines to decrease operating costs and reinvest the savings in patient care. 

The U.S. Department of Energy provides helpful resources for building retrofits. Its Better Buildings Alliance brings together leading hospitals and national associations to dramatically improve energy efficiency in healthcare facilities.