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Milwaukee VA honored for energy-saving upgrades

FM staff with energy efficiency award
Linda Sue Schwarz, Facilities Management director, and Ken Dantoin, energy manager, with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, display the Energy Efficiency Excellence Award. Standing with them are FM team members, hospital leadership and representatives from We Energies and Focus on Energy.

The Milwaukee VA Medical Center was honored Tuesday for energy-saving projects that have saved millions of dollars in utility costs and reduced its carbon footprint.

Milwaukee VA is one of 10 organizations in Wisconsin to receive the 2022 Energy Efficiency Excellence Award from Focus on Energy. Awards go to businesses and governmental entities that work to reduce energy waste and consumption.

“It’s nice to receive recognition,” said Linda Sue Schwarz, Facilities Management director for the Milwaukee VA, after an award ceremony Tuesday morning on the Milwaukee VA campus. “So much of the infrastructure nobody sees, but it’s so critical. … Energy savings is something that we’re always looking at.”

Working with We Energies, the Milwaukee VA has undertaken several projects, including boiler upgrades, steam trap replacement, insulation upgrades, window replacement and lighting retrofits. The result has been a $6 million annual reduction in utility bills and savings of more than 52,000 therms and 4 million kilowatt-hours a year.

“Those are just incredible numbers for this campus,” said Tyler Huebner, a commissioner with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. “It’s good for you and for the utility because it reduces … the strain on the entire system. And it’s good for everybody in the state because it can help reduce emissions.”

David Voss, energy adviser for Focus on Energy who worked with the Milwaukee VA, called the project “one of the best” he’s seen in working with the federal government. “It can be used as a model throughout the entire VA.”

He noted that the lighting project alone saved nearly 21 million kilowatt-hours and touched nearly every room in every building on campus. Ken Dantoin, energy manager for the Milwaukee VA, said it has reduced energy consumption for lighting by 75 percent while increasing the quality of the light.

Six years in the making

It all began with the identification of infrastructure improvements that would save energy, Dantoin said, and then executing those improvements.

“This is the culmination of six years’ worth of work,” Dantoin said, noting that the energy savings alone will pay for the costs of the projects. “It reduces our electrical use, conserves energy and reduces our carbon footprint.”

The COVID pandemic benefited the project as FM staff were able to more easily access patient areas that were either shut down or saw a significant reduction in use due to mitigation protocols.

“It allowed us to work through the medical floors unencumbered,” he said, noting the staff was able to accomplish in days what normally would have taken months.

The Facilities Management team at the Milwaukee VA carried out many of the projects, along with local contractors, many of them Veteran-owned businesses.

“It was great to hear how it benefits the economy as you’re hiring local contractors to do this work,” Huebner said. “And you have a cadre of wonderful employees on staff who are able to see these projects through to completion.”

Acting Medical Center Director Jim McLain agreed, calling the FM team “the best in all of the VA, without a doubt. The team here is truly remarkable … doing great things every day. All of them were a part of this huge project. They made it happen.”

The Milwaukee VA was nominated for the award by Nita Gawlik, energy efficiency services engineer with We Energies, who nearly 30 years ago worked on a project at the medical center. She said she was impressed by the sense of community in the hospital and the support for Veterans.

“There is a lot of well-deserved praise for health care workers and support staff … but we hear little about the behind-the-scenes staff who keep the lights on, the air clean, the water running and the toilets flushing,” she said.

“The VA facilities staff here has holistically researched, planned and executed … a premier list of energy-saving projects and practices that target every energy-consuming system on campus. … Their efforts not only conserve energy and save dollars but fulfill a VA value for ensuring responsible stewardship of natural resources.”

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