Sparks looks for funds to go green

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Sparks looks for funds to go green

Postby StephanieCutts » Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:58 pm ... o+go+green

June 7, 2009

Sparks looks for funds to go green


Going green is taking on a whole new meaning for the city of Sparks.

This time it doesn't involve the community's historic Irish heritage. Energy is the issue.

Sparks is preparing a proposal that could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city as it tries to promote efficiency through reduced energy costs from the electricity the municipal government uses to the fuel it consumes.

"Our primary objective in this is to increase and promote energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy generation within the city of Sparks," City Engineer Pete Etchart said.

The initial focus will be on the governmental-public sector.

"With the amount of money we are receiving, it's not adequate right now to go into the private sector, but hopefully down the road we will," Etchart said.

To get the green efforts going, Sparks is looking to the federal government. Led by President Barack Obama, federal leaders are rolling out multiple initiatives to make the country more energy-efficient and less dependent on foreign supplies while promoting a cleaner environment.

"We are expecting to receive a direct allocation to the city of Sparks for $840,000," Etchart said. "There's also $400 million available in national competitive grant applications."

Etchart laid out these details in a recent presentation to Sparks City Council. Council members eventually would be asked to sign off on the various green-energy efforts on what could be a multi-year effort and also involve separate state grants.

Energy costs

As Etchart describes it, some "very good reasons" exist to start focusing on the government-public sector in Sparks.

Officials have gone back the past several years and gathered usage involving gallons of gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas, along with studying the city's electrical bill.

Some findings:

* From 2004 to 2008, electrical use by city government was up about 7 percent with electrical costs increasing about 15 percent.

"Our total electric bill is up 23 to 24 percent these past four years," Etchart said. "That's actually with a decrease this past year. We're actually up in three years, from 2004 to 2007, 32 percent."

* Sparks' total electrical bill in 2008 was nearly $4.7 million.

* Gas is a similar story but a little higher, Etchart said. The city's total gas bill was up 40.7 percent the last four years with the city paying more than $260,000 in 2008 alone.

The data will serve as a baseline for quantifying Sparks' energy reductions and also ideally be used for emission reductions to promote a cleaner environment.

"Each of those -- gasoline, diesel, natural gas, electricity -- has a greenhouse gas conversion factor," Etchart said.

Fueling projects

In the years ahead, a number of regional efforts could begin to take shape, including new LED streetlights with energy savings 50 percent to 60 percent, along with regional recycling and community outreach opportunities.

"This is a short list," Etchart said. "It's actually growing all of the time."

In 2010-11, another possibility is a revolving energy fund. If adopted, this would keep green energy projects flowing without using money that finances day-to-day city services such as police and fire and road repairs.

"The basic premise of a revolving energy fund is that you utilize the savings from energy projects to provide additional energy projects and savings," Etchart said. "You can call it almost like an endowment fund of energy projects. You are using those savings to generate more savings."

He calls Sparks' effort a "major undertaking" that would yield several long-term benefits.

"It makes government operations more resilient to the rising energy costs. Energy costs are going up. Right now, we're in a little dip, but overall they're going up pretty drastically.

"And if the federal government does some of the ideas that they have proposed, such as a carbon tax or other things, those costs could go up drastically," Etchart said.

"... It also stimulates the development of jobs in the local energy services industry, and lastly, it allows the city to achieve emission reductions in line with" Sparks' participation in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

Sparks also is interested in working as a region to create a "Northern Nevada Energy Plan." Potential partners could include Reno, Washoe County, Carson City, Truckee and other agencies.

"It may become the Eastern Sierra Energy Plan," Etchart said.

But to get started, the city plans to carry out an energy-efficiency and renewable energy opportunity audit of Sparks city facilities this year.

"Once we've completed that, I think we'll be able to get a better handle on some realistic short-term and long-term goals for energy reductions and emission reductions," Etchart said.

Measuring savings

The city plans to complete its strategy plan by June 25.

The bottom line shouldn't be hard to see once Sparks' efforts get set into motion.

"We have the meter readings for our facilities, for streetlights, for traffic signals," Etchart said. "We have the meter readings before; we use the meter readings after. We actually see what the real savings are, not projected savings but actual savings. Then we suggest and propose that we use those savings to do more projects."

The city would solicit projects in its different city departments. The list would be prioritized and presented to City Council for its consideration.

Councilwoman Julia Ratti, a promoter of green energy efforts, likes what she sees in Etchart's plan.

"I think it is all very exiting," she said. "I think there's some very creative thinking going on at the staff level and at the local level to implement some of these projects. I commend you and say press forward."
Additional Facts

Through clean energy strategies, local governments can reduce emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, lower energy costs and improve the reliability and security of their energy system.
Clean energy also can spur local economic development, improve public health and quality of life and help communities meet sustainability and green building goals.
Source: U.S. government

Cities across the USA are making their streetlights brighter and greener by switching to LEDs.
Light-emitting diodes produce light when exposed to an electrical charge. They cost more than traditional lights, but last longer because they don't have filaments and use less electricity.
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