Small Towns Await Energy Efficiency Projects Fueled by Stimulus

Two years after the beginning of the economic stimulus package, some towns are on deck for energy efficiency projects.

by / March 1, 2011

Want further proof that projects funded by the nation’s economic stimulus would take some time to happen?

Eleven towns in Kent County, Del., have received federal grants as part of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, Gov. Jack Markell and Collin O’Mara, secretary of the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, announced late last week.

The grant’s projects include heating and cooling upgrades, the installation of energy-efficient lighting, programmable thermostats and solar energy installations. The projects are anticipated to collectively save the Delaware towns — Bowers Beach, Camden, Cheswold, Farmington, Felton, Frederica, Harrington, Leipsic, Viola, Woodside and Wyoming — $45,000 annually in energy costs.

“These projects represent a smart investment in our smaller towns and provide an opportunity to strengthen and stimulate the local economy by bringing a variety of work,” Markell said in a statement.

In total, Delaware received $5.5 million in the block grant, of which Kent County towns received a slice. O’Mara said the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control worked with every community that participated in the program to do an energy audit of its facilities, which gave each a roadmap for which investments will have the best payback.

“And so rather than have a one-size-fits-all solution,” O’Mara said, “every community came back with its own plan.”

Projects in the towns are currently under way and will likely take the next two months to complete. According to the state’s website, Camden — with a population of roughly 3,000 — was awarded grant money to make lighting improvements and HVAC upgrades to its municipal building, and to install a solar power system on the Camden-Wyoming Fire Hall and on a municipal building.

By making these modifications, Camden is estimated to save $6,000 annually in energy costs, reduce energy consumption by more than 17 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 30 metric tons, which is equivalent to taking six cars off the road for a year.

“The biggest challenge is a lot of these governments are very small, maybe a handful of staff — part-time elected officials,” O’Mara said. “And so it’s pure logistics of trying to coordinate such a massive program and trying to have energy efficiency and an energy roadmap being part of the process.”

The Kent County grant projects are part of a larger effort that awarded 41 municipalities in Delaware’s three counties federal grant funding through the EECBG program. The state divided nearly $5.5 million among its municipalities, distributing grants ranging from $10,000 to $500,000 a piece.

The $3.2 billion EECBG program was funded by the stimulus act, and was designed to help reduce fossil fuel emissions; reduce the total energy use of the eligible entities; improve energy efficiency in the transportation, building and other appropriate sectors; and create and retain jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

A new round of projects is under way in Delaware as well as several other states.

Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.