Celebrate Community: Conservation initiatives

Federal stimulus money to fund city energy-efficiency projects
2010-08-01T18:39:00Z Celebrate Community: Conservation initiativesCLAIR JOHNSON Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 01, 2010 6:39 pm  • 

From bicycle paths to energy audits, the city of Billings is launching several new projects to conserve energy with help from federal stimulus money.

Five projects are being funded with about $1 million that the city received from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“I think it’s real important for people to know the city is paying attention to energy consumption and taking steps to be more energy efficient,’’ said Planning Director Candi Beaudry, whose department is administering the grant.

The biggest chunk of the grant is for the Swords Park Trail II project, which will use $550,000 in stimulus money, along with state, local and private money, to complete a bicycle path linking the Billings Heights to downtown Billings. The total cost of the trail project is $949,000.

The new section will be about a mile of hard-surfaced pathway connecting the existing Swords Park Trail to the bicycle path along Aronson Avenue.  The multipurpose trail from Aronson Avenue now ends at the new tunnel under Airport Road.  The link will complete an important four-mile bicycle commuting route.

“It will be a fun little ride’’ when completed sometime next summer, Beaudry said. The trail system is aimed at encouraging people to drive less and use other methods of transportation.

 “It’s giving them choices and that’s what it’s all about,’’ she said.

Other projects include:

2009 International Energy Conservation Code Program Development: The City Building Division will use $100,000 to train and certify building safety officials and to educate the building community on the new energy code. The state adopted the codes this spring and the city followed in June. A new energy code requirement, for example, is that basements in new residential and commercial buildings must be insulated.

The energy code program, Beaudry said, is expected to reduce energy consumption in new construction by 15 percent. The grant also will help preserve one city position. Last year, the city’s building department had to lay off three employees because a slowdown in building led to a decline in  revenue from building permits, she said.

Energy Performance Contract for City-Owned Buildings: The city has hired McKinstry (ESCO) of Seattle to conduct an energy audit of all city buildings for $250,000. The audit will review the heating, lighting and water use in all buildings and identify ways to save energy. The airport has conducted a similar audit, but this one is more extensive, Beaudry said.

City Energy Star Challenge: This is an Environmental Protection Agency program that will establish  baseline of energy used by public and volunteering private buildings and then monitor results after improvements have been made.   The grant is for $53,000. Public education is a key feature of the project, Beaudry said. A website will be established for the public to learn about energy-saving tips and available financial assistance.  The city has contracted with Montana State University Billings to develop a marketing campaign on ways the public can become involved. Public service announcements should begin appearing this fall, Beaudry said.

Hybrid Bookmobile: The Parmly Billings Library will receive $50,000 in stimulus money to help buy a new hybrid bookmobile. The new vehicle will have an EPA-compliant diesel engine and an electric hybrid drive system. In addition to the grant money, the library has about $117,000 in its equipment replacement fund, which will cover about half of the $350,000 needed for the new vehicle. The library will pay for the rest.

The projects are part of the city’s energy strategy, which was adopted in June. The strategy is to provide long-term, community-wide benefits in the next 16 years. The goal is to reduce total energy use and fossil fuel consumption in the building, transportation and utility areas. One of the goals, for example, is to establish baseline energy use information for all city buildings and participating private buildings and to reduce energy consumption 15 percent by 2015.

The Mayor’s Commission on Energy and Conservation, an appointed group that promotes energy conservation, will monitor the energy-saving initiatives.

Beaudry said the city asked each department if it had a project that would fit stimulus requirements and address energy-saving goals. Projects were reviewed by the commission and forwarded to the City Council for approval.

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