Cities Go Green With Stimulus Money
By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team
TULSA, Oklahoma -- President Obama offered up $2.7 billion to go toward energy efficiency and conservation as part of the stimulus plan.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program was actually signed into law in 2007, but this is the first time it's ever been funded. Local conservation specialists said this funding proves the Obama administration's dedication to conservation and sustainability.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa are guilty of waste. From trash to energy, the stimulus money will help the two cities be greener.
"I think we've made a lot of improvements over the past few years, but I think we still have a long way to go," said Autumn Radle, Oklahoma City's Sustainability Director.
Both cities have recently appointed sustainability officials to work on just that, sustainability. But budgets are tight in both towns. So this shot of stimulus funding will go a long way in getting them there.
"It really allows us to move projects forward and do things that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise," said Brett Fidler, Special Advisor for Sustainability in the Tulsa Mayor's office.
Oklahoma City was awarded $5.4 million. Their strategy includes:
- $315,000 for three staff members in the Office of Sustainability
- $150,000 to create a 5 to 10 year sustainability program
- $2 million for energy benchmarking, audits and retrofits at city facilities
- $500,000 for residential energy efficiency loan program (up to $5,000 per household)
- $130,000 for lighting retrofits and upgrades in 15 city buildings
- $188,000 for automated energy management systems in 6 city buildings
- $130,000 for public education and outreach
- $200,000 for a bike share program in and around downtown and midtown (6 kiosks)
- $1.2 million for a compressed natural gas fast-fill fueling station
- $125,000 for study and creation of building code changes
- $250,000 for recycling, three drop off locations and several receptacles downtown
- Administration costs
Tulsa was awarded $3.8 million. Their strategy includes:
- $1.4 million for OSU Medical Center energy efficiency retrofit
- $860,564 toward the geothermal grid in The Brady District, downtown
- $500,000 for a small business energy efficiency revolving loan program
- $478,000 for automated building management systems
- $290,000 to hire technical consultants
- $272,000 for administration costs
The EECBG is a formula grant, meaning the amount awarded is based on population. It's non-competitive, but to get those tax dollars each city had to come up with their own strategies to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions.
In Tulsa a large chunk of the money, $1.4 million, will go toward the ailing OSU Medical Center, where a large portion of the area's uninsured seek medical care. A City of Tulsa Trust recently put the facility on life support by providing enough funding to keep the doors open. With the stimulus money engineers will retrofit the hospital for energy efficiency. Those changes should save the hospital $200,000 a year.
"You know they save this money. It allows them to hire people to do other jobs and that kind of thing so it kind of spider webs out a little bit," Fidler said.
Another large chunk of Tulsa's money will go toward a private/public partnership to build a geothermal grid in the Brady District, downtown. Area businesses will be able to save energy and money by tying into the system.
"They can tap into this system and realize significant savings on their heating and cooling, sometimes about 60 percent is what we hope," Fidler said.
Then there are revolving loan programs. In Tulsa the revolving loan program sets aside $500,000 for small businesses for energy efficiency loans. Which businesses might qualify and the amount each business will be able to apply for has not been decided. But when the loans are paid back the money will go back into the program for other loans.
In Oklahoma City, the revolving loan program is for homeowners. Families which make up to $100,000 a year will be able to apply for up to $5,000 in stimulus to make their homes more energy efficient.
"They have disposable income, but they might not have enough to make those upgrades," Radle said.
Another program people in Oklahoma City will be able to take advantage of is a bike sharing program much like the one in Tulsa. There will be six kiosks around downtown Oklahoma City where people can rent bikes and go green.
"It sends a message that Oklahoma City cares, that we don't think that a car is the only way you can travel, that it's viable to travel by bike and that you have a right to be on the road as a bicyclist," Radle said.
Oklahoma City will also add recycling bins around downtown, retrofit some buildings and spend money coming up with a five to ten year plan for sustainability.
"It's kind of the city saying we're going to lead by example and then the community can follow," Radle said.
Ultimately Oklahomans tax dollars should serve a greater purpose. The money is intended to bring a new awareness and new, greener industries to Oklahoma.
"I think we're lucky to have the opportunity to not promote our green initiatives and move those projects forward, but to promote sustainability and job creation in the community. And that's really what the force, the driving force, behind this stimulus package is," Fidler said.
Each city will be required to report back to the Department of Energy:
- How many jobs were saved
- How many jobs were created
- How much energy the cities are saving
- Greenhouse gas emissions reductions
Opponents of the stimulus said this is one more way the federal government is interfering with local governments.