By Roy L Hales
As part of the economic stimulus package five years ago, Congress allotted $2.7 billion for energy efficient block grants (EECBG) to be spent by local governments. Over 200 mayors filled out questionnaires explaining how that money was spent in their cities. This was recently published in Successful City Initiatives with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Funding, which states:
- 87% said money went to municipal projects and operations
- 83% said the city’s retrofit government buildings
- 42% said it was used for LED/other energy-efficient street lighting
- 31% said they used it to to install solar energy systems on public buildings and facilities
“Cities made very good use of these funds, ” said Mayor Shane Bemis of Gresham, Oregon. “Cities were able to do many new things in terms of energy and climate. In fact 62% of the mayors reported they were able to develop new programs, through this block grant, that were not previously in their energy plans. Obviously there is a potential for much more success and more to be done. The direct funding, albeit a one time infusion of funds, is still paying dividends”
There were numerous specific examples of projects:
- One city retrofitted 1,267 homes and over 130 businesses with its formula grant;
- Another said it weatherized more than 200 income-qualified homes;
- A third installed over 2,000 LED streetlights with smart controls;
- Another leveraged its $300,000 in EECBG grant funds into a $2.5 million solar array project;
- One established a loan-loss reserve program in partnership with a local credit union, allowing for no money down, no home equity-based energy loans to homeowners.
- Another city described its interest-free loans to help residents buy Energy Star appliances, high SEER ACs, and other energy efficient devices, reporting no loan defaults.
The city of Gresham, Oregon, planted two 18-foot tall solar trees in front of its city building. They also installed solar panels in the parking lot and Mayor Bemis believes the latter investment, alone, will save the Portland suburb $600,000 in energy costs over 30 years.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, used $70,000 from the block grant on a feasibility study for an anaerobic digester that converts wastewater sludge and organic waste into electricity. This subsequently attracted a private investor who is willing to put up $20 million and they now expect to have their plant start up in 2015.
“Even as mayors were confronting budget constraints due to the recession and federal spending cuts, this report shows that cities leveraged EECBG dollars by making investments that are still paying dividends today,” said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who Co-Chairs the US Conference of Mayor’s Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force.
“These findings underscore that mayors have been leading by example on energy efficiency and conservation for years,” said Mayor Bemis, Chair of the Energy Committee. “Mayors all across the country have been actively working to advance energy-saving measures in communities large and small, and what we see in this report translates into real budgetary savings, local job creation and small business growth.”
“The mayors who signed the USCM Climate Protection Agreement represent more than 86 million people in the U.S. who are learning how important it is to work locally to curb harmful greenhouse emissions and adapt to climate change,” said Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, Co-Chair of the Conference’s Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force. “The success mayors are having in deploying these resources makes the case for a stronger local-federal partnership on our nation’s energy and climate challenges, including continued EECBG funding to support cities and local areas as they develop new energy solutions.”
Ironically, most of the mayors reported that the Federal Government has ceased to provide most of the funding for their energy projects. The percentage of cities reporting Federal Assistance has dropped from 71%, under previous administrations, to 30% under President Obama.
“We really hope that Congress will see through to do it again,” said Finch. “We need to re-up this funding. Do it again. Do it on a continual basis.”
(All images taken from Successful City Initiatives with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) - Feb 2004)