Friday, January 15, 2010

Governments unite in plan to save energy

2 counties and 5 cities collaborate for $700,000 grant

Express Staff Writer

Two counties and five towns pooled their efforts to apply for a $700,000 Idaho grant that would finance energy-reduction measures sweeping throughout the area.

Hailey Treasurer Becky Stokes said the collaboration marks the first of its kind and would benefit all governments involved.

"The whole is greater than the sum of the parts," she said.

Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center, said the center discovered the Idaho grant—offered to only rural cities and counties—and after months of planning secured partners Blaine and Camas counties and the cities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Fairfield. Barry said the city of Carey was also invited but declined to participate.

The group of seven decided to apply and share one grant even though each could go on its own seeking the maximum of $100,000 for a city or county.

"We all quickly did the math," Barry said, "and figured there probably wouldn't be enough funding separately to support both the specific retrofit projects and the region energy efficiency projects we had identified."

This is especially important because the cities and counties can't wait long to get funding from elsewhere for their energy projects if they are awarded the grant in mid-February. The state stipulates that all the work needs to be completed by late September 2012.

The seven communities have outlined five energy-reducing projects in their grant proposal, many of which will directly benefit the citizens living there.

The community leaders aren't acting in response to the recent Christmas Eve blackout. Applications were due Dec. 18.

Gary Grayson, energy specialist for the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, said 73 applications have been turned in to the state asking for a total of about $8 million, but only $5.7 million is available. The money is coming from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, which Grayson oversees in the state.

Grayson said seven committee members are judging the grant applications based on jobs created, amount of CO2 reduction, energy saved and cost effectiveness.

Blaine County Planner Shana Sweitzer said she and Hailey Planner Mariel Platt wrote the grant application. A prominent feature is a $260,000 rebate program offered to homeowners and businesses that conduct energy audits and implement some of the basic energy improvements identified.

"We're basically trying to prime the pump, so to speak," Barry said.

Stokes said rebate details "aren't hashed out yet" but each community would set its own parameters. She said Hailey would most likely limit rebates to around $1,000 so more people would have a chance at a rebate.

The other large expense would be a total of $20,000 spent on conducting audits of public buildings to identify cost-effective energy-efficiency projects. Then, about $339,000 has been slated for undertaking these retrofit projects.

The remaining spending would be to replace traffic lights with energy-saving LED lights at a cost of $32,000, conduct a $7,000 region-wide outreach program to raise awareness about energy efficiency, and draft a regional energy-efficiency and conservation strategy, costing $5,000.

But all these ambitions don't have the green light yet. The cities and counties are waiting for the word from the state, yea or nay.

Trevon Milliard:

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