Three downtown Bradenton buildings being cooled by new 'chiller plant'

BRADENTON -- Downtown Bradenton recently became more energy efficient when the Manatee County Central Energy Plant went on line.

With three county government buildings already being cooled by the "chiller plant," county officials are estimating "tremendous cost benefits" of the plant, located at 323 Ninth Street W.

Bradenton was "the perfect downtown campus to put a Central Energy Plant," said Maggie Daniell, senior fiscal services manager in the county's property management department.

The $12 million project is "a new energy-efficient way of providing cold-water energy to air condition buildings," Daniell said.

Currently the Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W.; the county administration building, 1112 Manatee

Ave. W.; and the property appraiser's office, 915 Fourth Ave. W., are the buildings being cooled by the chiller plant.

But with two chillers already up and running at the plant and a capacity for a third, there is opportunity for the plant to cool additional buildings in downtown Bradenton.

"It is a very large capacity Central Energy Plant and we have plenty of room for further development for downtown Bradenton," Daniell said.

Each chiller has a capacity to provide 500 tons of coolant, said Winston Baugh, the lead project manager with FPL Energy Services, the county's partner on the project's construction.

Between 300 and 400 tons are being used now. Since the amount of coolant is well below the capacity, the two chillers are alternated to cool the buildings.

So far, the "current performance of the plant is actually better than expected," Baugh said.

This is the first standalone chiller plant in Bradenton, Daniell said. There are similar chiller plants in Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.

The plant, which was designed by Fawley Bryant Architect, is painted in Manatee County teal and will soon display the county's logo.

Baugh said a little bit more effort was put into the building's design.

"The building serves as public artwork," he said.

The Central Library, which reopened May 11 after a three-month closure for renovations, was the first building to be hooked up to the plant. The library was connected in early April, followed by the property appraiser's office in mid-April and the county administration building the first week of May.

Before the construction of the plant, each of the three county buildings had an individual chiller on-site to cool the respective building. As the three buildings have been hooked up to the chiller plant, the old equipment has been removed. The old chiller at the administration building completely went out so until the building was hooked up to the plant, an emergency chiller was used to cool the building, Daniell said.

Since the existing units were aging, the timing was good for the county to invest in the Central Energy Plant, Baugh said.

While the project has a $12 million price tag, Daniell said the plant has a "tremendous cost-benefit." The plant has guaranteed savings to pay for the total cost of the project in the next 20 years, Daniell said.

"You don't have different sites running around," Daniell said. "It was time, because the assets were fully aged."

With the efficiency and capacity of the chiller plant, Daniell said it would last longer than the individual chillers. The chiller has a minimum lifespan of 25 years but it is projected the plant will last 30 some years, she added.

"With the dream and vision they have for downtown Bradenton, the possibilities are endless," Daniell said.

Since the buildings are being cooled by the 7,220-square-foot plant, it freed up more square-footage in downtown where the chillers once occupied, Daniell said.

"The A/C systems are not hogging up space," she said.

While the chiller plant is up and running, the three elevators located in the county administration building as well as the two elevators in the adjacent parking garage are in the process of being reconnected, which is anticipated to be done by Oct. 31.

The cost of the chiller and the piping, which connected the buildings to the plant, was $9.3 million, while the $12 million includes other energy-saving measures such as the lighting, water conservation, air-handling unit replacements, HVAC controls, transformers and elevator improvements.

"This is a major part in being a leader in downtown Bradenton and where we want to see Bradenton," Baugh said. "It is not a cheap option but in this case it is a win-win. The more buildings down the road (that hook to the plant) is preparation for downtown for future growth."

The county has completed all its necessary piping and street closures and there are additional taps located throughout downtown in place for buildings to be hooked to the plant, Daniell said, adding there is a set of taps pointing to the east if necessary. If there are future road closures for more pipings, it would be done by parties other than the county.

If other buildings are connected to the plant, there is also the possibility for the plant to eventually generate revenue. The county chiller plant could provide chilled water to potential clients such as the city of Bradenton, SunTrust Bank, South Florida Museum and other private businesses.

Daniell said the county is in the final process to develop a contract to allow for the possibility to provide the chilled water to buildings other than the county owned ones.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.