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Southside to benefit from energy grants

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) announced this week that the 13th Congressional District will be awarded $16 million to allow local governments to reduce their carbon foot print, and therefore, reduce energy costs.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program, funded by President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will give cities and counties in the Southern Crescent the money to make their buildings, and their transportation and lighting systems more efficient.

Through the grant program, the cities of Marietta and Smyrna, and the counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Henry are now able to apply for some of the $16 million by submitting projects to various state agencies. According to Scott, Clayton and Henry counties will be able to apply for totals of $2.5 million and $751,000, respectively.

Scott said the program will serve as a way to move the country toward energy independence, to relieve cash-strapped municipalities of financial burdens over time, and to generate new jobs.

"We're really focusing on making this country energy efficient, and this is a way that we can get money into the community," he said. "We want to stimulate our economy by making our communities better and more efficient. It adds value to the community and it is also providing somebody with a paycheck. They are going to pay someone to retrofit, they are going to be paying someone to reconfigure these buildings to make them more energy efficient."

Activities eligible for the funding include: Energy audits on residential and commercial buildings; establishing financial-incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements; grants to non-profit agencies to perform energy efficiency retrofits; development programs to conserve energy used in transportation; developing and implementing building codes and inspection services to promote energy efficiency; installing more efficient lighting on government-owned property; and installing renewable energy technology in government buildings.

Rob Magnaghi, county manager of Henry County, said that Henry will try to use the funds to renovate some of it's older buildings and install high-efficiency air conditioning units in some of its newer buildings.

"We're certainly very pleased with it," he said. "The money should come very quickly. It gives us the ability to do some upgrades that we wouldn't have had the funds to do previously."

Magnaghi said the county would like to use the funds to create new energy-efficient facilities, such as a new library in Hampton, a new recreation center in the Fairview area, and a new facility for Haven House, a battered women's shelter which services the Henry County area.

"Right now, they [Haven House] can't come anywhere close to getting the building they need to accommodate the requests they are getting," Magnaghi said. "It's extremely small, it's a very old building, and they are constantly having problems with the electricity. The new facility would be significantly larger."

According to Magnaghi, Henry County may also use the grant funds to renovate its old police station on Phillips Drive in McDonough, and turn it into a new voter registration office with high-efficiency air-conditioning systems.

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said Clayton spends roughly $5 million a year on energy costs. With several energy-saving projects financed with grant funds, the county will be able to save "our taxpayers an enormous amount of money," he said.

"We are about to sign a contract with Trane and Siemens to look at our whole energy system in Clayton County," Bell said. "We have a large number of traffic lights in the county. We can change all of those bulbs to bulbs that last up to two years that are energy efficient. In a lot of school buildings and other government buildings, our lights are on all night. I want to look at the possibility of our lights going on based on the presence in the room."

Bell said the county may also replace some of its traditional water heaters with new, compact water heaters. He said the newer heaters use coils to instantly heat water as it comes through the pipes, and uses less energy than traditional water heaters, which constantly use natural gas to keep the water at a certain temperature.

"There is no limit," he said. "We expect that with this money, we might be able to cut our energy usage by half."

Gary Woodward, Scott's legislative director, said the counties and cities targeted for the funds would have 90 to 120 days to apply for, and use, the funds.

"The whole idea with the stimulus package was that we get the money out to them quickly and they spend it quickly," Woodward said. "The broad purpose of this is to allow cities and county governments to make themselves more energy efficient. By reducing their carbon footprint, they will save money."