We have a lot to be proud of in Billings. Numerous energy cost savings upgrades have been made in our city, such as replacing outdated lighting in parking garages with more energy efficient LED alternatives and replacing aging garbage trucks with cleaner-burning models fueled by methane, which is now being captured at our City’s landfill. These efforts deserve recognition and appreciation.
There are also ambitious new plans for capital improvements. This includes the airport expansion and construction of a new West End water treatment plant and storage lakes, at a cost of nearly $70 million each. Also budgeted are completion of the Inner Belt Loop and several trail connectors, as well as construction of a new fire station.
Some capital projects are designed to save the city money. The Parks Department is building satellite maintenance facilities to cut down the fuel and time workers spend on the road. Similarly, Public Works is upgrading its CNG fueling stations, where the city’s new methane-powered fleet will soon be able to fuel up in a fraction of the time.
In March, the City Council was presented with the latest draft of the Capital Improvement Plan. It includes construction of a new City Hall, along with an aquatics and recreation facility in South Billings and expansion of the police evidence facility. The combined cost of these three projects: nearly $70 million. In fact, utility costs alone account for more than $168 million of the revised plan.
With such major undertakings in the works, let’s support a long-term commitment to energy cost savings. An expert, citizen-led advisory committee on energy efficiency, working in partnership with the city, would maximize these opportunities.
On January 7, Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council, the League of Women Voters, Angela’s Piazza and others asked the City Council to re-establish a Commission on Energy and Conservation. The idea, which was received favorably, is awaiting a public hearing and a vote by Council. The goal is to:
• Formally create a Commission on Energy and Conservation, comprised of seven citizens and three ex-officio city staff.
• Conduct a baseline inventory of energy usage by city facilities, transportation and equipment.
• Utilize the baseline data to develop a comprehensive plan with measurable benchmarks to reduce energy consumption and conserve city resources.
• Provide semi-annual progress reports to the City Council.
A Commission on Energy and Conservation is a win-win for the city of Billings. Not only will there be a coordinated effort to reduce energy costs across all departments, but with the help of citizen volunteers who are experts in their field, the city can achieve these savings without high-paid consultants or placing an additional burden on City staff.
The City Council is slated to vote on the new Capital Improvement Plan on April 22, which is the annual celebration of Earth Day. The city should utilize the timely opportunity to also vote to relaunch a Commission on Energy and Conservation. Call your City Council members today and ask them to approve a 10-year Commission on Energy and Conservation, and request a vote on this issue on April 22nd.