When Al Neuner began looking at energy-conservation projects in 1995, he had no idea they could lead to $7 million in annual savings. “At the time, I was driven purely by financial necessity,” says the vice president of facilities operations for Geisinger Health System, which serves more than 2.6 million residents in 44 counties in Pennsylvania. “Times were lean, and we were making cutbacks. I realized that every dollar we saved in energy was a dollar we could use to save jobs and continue our mission.”

Despite several successful energy-savings projects, Neuner’s department was ignored by Geisinger’s capital-allocation process in 1996. “It’s a bureaucratic process, and energy-savings projects aren’t as sexy as CT scanners, MRI machines, and robotic surgery equipment,” he says. “You can’t advertise energy savings on a billboard.”

The Hospital for Advanced Medicine on Geisinger’s Danville campus is a leading-edge healthcare facility, featuring skylights and other smart and eco-friendly design features. Photos: Barry Halkin

Neuner, however, used that year’s oversight to his advantage. He suggested that in the future his department receive funding based on an agreed-upon formula, based on square footage. Currently, the department gets $1.25 per square foot, but it increases by $0.10 annually. “The health system is currently at a little more than 6 million square feet, so next year I’d get $7.5 million to $8 million,” he explains.

This formula continues to please Geisinger’s executive management, Neuner says, because the projects his department completes generate a compelling return on investment.

In November 2011, Neuner’s team added a five-megawatt cogeneration facility to Geisinger’s Danville campus, which includes the LEED Silver Hospital for Advanced Medicine and the LEED Silver Henry Hood Center for Health Research. The cogeneration plant creates combined heat and electricity and repurposes waste heat for useful purposes. “The cogeneration facility generates savings of about $1.4 million per year, making the ROI just under two years,” Neuner says. The facility’s $5.3 million cost was reduced to $2.6 million via grants from the local utility, PPL, and Pennsylvania Green Energy Works, a grant program funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

Neuner’s department installed a chilled-water-storage system at the Danville campus. EwingCole designed the facility, and principal Jason Fierko says the firm helped Geisinger prepare for electric-rate-cap expirations by designing a one-million-gallon thermal-storage tank with a cooling capacity of 8,000-ton-hours.

Here’s how it works: At night, when both temperatures and electricity costs are lower—the latter roughly a third of the daytime cost—the system runs three chillers that produce 2,700 tons of cooling. During the day, the system runs one chiller that produces 900 tons of cooling and draws remaining energy from the water in the tank. In addition to reducing energy usage, it also affects the demand charge. The health system’s utility, PJM, assesses charges based on peak load contributions to the grid, and since the chilled-water system takes two megawatts off peak, the health system’s hourly kilowatt fee is reduced. “The cost was about the same as adding an additional chiller, which wouldn’t have produced savings of $150,000 a year,” Neuner says.

Other savings have been achieved via reduced water usage. “Air handlers generate a lot of water in cooling season, and most facilities drain it away,” Neuner says. “We recapture it and use it to feed our cooling towers, significantly reducing our water usage. Along with savings from plumbing fixtures, we’ve reduced our water usage by 30 million gallons of water per year.”

Neuner is quick to give credit to a core group of consultants and contractors with whom Geisinger works with on its green projects, including Ewing Cole, Hiller Albert Design Group, and Johnson Controls, which also owns York, the manufacturer of Geisinger’s chillers and air handlers. “We work hand-in-hand with them to achieve so many things,” Neuner says of the health system’s energy-savings efforts.

The figures for Geisinger’s energy savings are annual and thereby provide a funding stream with which to invest in additional site improvements. “The health system is up to $7 million in annual energy savings as a result of these efforts,” Neuner says, “and that roughly corresponds with the amount of funding we receive each year.”

And that number will only get bigger, as Neuner’s department continues energy-conservation efforts across the health system. “We just acquired another hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the first thing I did was go there and do an energy audit to identify opportunities for savings,” he says. “With an investment of $880,000 in plant infrastructure—chillers, boilers, lighting—we’re going to save $625,000. [That’s] an ROI of 1.4 years.”

The Henry Hood Center for Health Research and Hospital for Advanced Medicine save energy as they help save lives.