Columbia to receive $1 million for energy efficiency by October

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — City commission members, sustainability consultants and city staff met Wednesday night to hash out the details for spending the $1 million in federal stimulus money  aimed at encouraging energy efficiency throughout the city.

The money, which the city will get by October, comes from Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant established under the stimulus bill as a part of the U.S. Department of Energy. It will be used to assess and improve city buildings' energy efficiency, develop incentives to promote energy efficiency in new commercial buildings and hire a sustainability manager.

The city’s Water and Light Advisory Board met with the Columbia Environment and Energy Commission and associates of Burns & McDonnell, an environmental consulting firm, to discuss and tweak the planned activities using the federal money. They will submit plans to City Council next week and then to the U.S. Department of Energy by the June 25 deadline.

Roderick Schwass, a Burns & McDonnell associate, said the total Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program is $3.75 billion.

"It’s money out of DOE’s budget that has been allocated to cities, counties, tribes and state energy offices based on a demographic formula," Schwass said. "Columbia does not have to compete for it against other cities and counties, but they must justify that they are using it for energy conservation or energy efficiency projects.”

Within three to six months after receiving the block grant funds, Burns & McDonnell, along with city staff, will implement energy assessments of all city buildings and rank them according to Energy Star benchmarks. Energy Star is a government-backed national system that compares similar types of buildings based upon their energy efficiency and ranks them from one to 100. An Energy Star label is given to buildings that obtain a rating of 75 or greater, which makes them eligible for tax credits.

Columbia has six Energy Star labeled buildings, including three middle schools, two MU buildings and one retail store.

The city hopes this process will help reduce energy use by eliminating wasteful energy consumption, while also highlighting important energy conservation opportunities. That leads to the second activity — retrofitting some city buildings.

This activity will review the conservation opportunities and implement projects to improve facility efficiency, such as lighting, heat, water and cooling systems. Nearly half of the $1 million allocated to Columbia will be budgeted toward this activity because of its quick turn around in increasing energy efficiency and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, Schwass said.

Bob Walters, an Environment and Energy Commission member, said retrofitting city buildings will have a practical impact the community can actually see.

“It sounds as though they are going to analyze some of the major public buildings and recommend a point of action on retrofitting them," he said. "Those will have demonstrable benefits that can be publicized and understood by the community at large."

The next two activities are aimed at creating sustainable outreach in Columbia. One activity will establish the city as an Energy Star partner, encourage efficient design of buildings and explore the possibility of waiving building fees for commercial construction if built to Energy Star criteria.

The block grant will also fund a three-year stint for a manager of sustainability position in the city staff. This person would oversee all sustainability efforts in Columbia, evaluating, organizing and carrying out energy efficiency objectives.

“There has to be someone who is going to implement these activities and be watching over them,” said Barbara Buffaloe, Environment and Energy Commission chairwoman. “The city of Columbia has, with their Water and Light Department, tons of energy efficiency programs in place, but the average homeowner here, or community citizen, doesn’t know about them so the idea of the sustainability director is that they will help raise awareness about this.”

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