By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now
In Durham, N.C., homes will get an energy retrofit. In Salt Lake City, they’ll develop a plan to reduce auto pollution. In Sacramento, they’ll be improving the landscape around a river to reduce pollution runoff. And in Denver, they’ll be looking at a little bit of all that — energy efficiency for homes and businesses, bike sharing and renewable energy.
It’s all being made possible by $10 million from the EPA’s Climate Showcase Community Grants, set up to help communities develop their plans to reduce greenhouse gases and lighten their carbon footprint.
In the city and county of Durham, N.C., the community will use the grant to retrofit homes in selected neighborhoods. Tobin Freid, sustainability manager, says one of the most effective ways to change behavior is to see that everyone else “is doing it.” In other words, if the neighbors are all getting retrofitted, the mentality is “I should do that, too.”
The federal grants will have a double benefit by providing much needed green collar jobs for those employed by the program.
“We are starting with 2,000 square-feet or less homes, all of which are single story and free of un-vented combustion appliances.
The houses in these neighborhoods tend to be similar, three to four styles,” says Freid, and by beginning with simple designs, “it is more efficient to quickly assess [the retrofitting needs].”
Single story homes are easier to retrofit because the duct work is all on one level. The other advantage is that the smaller homes are a good training ground for the retrofitters before embarking on larger projects in the future, Freid said.
The Durham crew is not doing an energy audit on each of these homes, instead, “we are focusing on four retrofits: a programmable thermostat, sealing air ducts, adding insulation and sealing leaks/cracks in floor boards. Most houses need these.”
The homes to be retrofitted will be selected this spring and the work will begin in July. Currently, Freid says, “volunteers are going door to door to educate homeowners on energy savings and tax incentives. We will also have workshops on easy energy fixes such as caulking windows or wrapping hot water pipes.”
The homes chosen will be tracked for energy use, before and two years after, the retrofits. “We realize energy consumption changes depending how many people live in a house. For example when a child is born, energy usage goes up; or when a child goes off to college, energy usage should go down.”
Residents will pay $300 to participate; the grant will provide up to $1,200 per home. Depending on what a family’s income is, they may qualify for the federal weatherization program. In which case, they will be encouraged to do so. A family of four earning $44,000 or below, would qualify.
Salt Lake City
In Salt Lake City, the EPA grant is being used to figure out how to make sustainable transportation a priority — and for good reason.
“Salt Lake City experiences very poor air quality, especially in winter,” says the city’s environmental manager, Renee Zollinger. This is due to an air inversion that sets in and traps pollutants in the valley. Air quality isn’t much better in the summer due to ozone production. “We frequently have the worst air quality in the nation, which is clearly a health concern. About half of the pollution that accumulates during those periods is from vehicle exhaust. These vehicle emissions also include a lot of greenhouse gases. “
To combat the air quality issue, the Salt Lake has initiated several outreach campaigns to reduce community vehicle emissions. Zollinger says that while these have been successful, “we felt that these programs…would benefit by stepping back and taking a holistic approach to identifying our audiences and their respective priorities, and then developing very tailored messaging that brings those groups into the effort.”
That’s where the EPA grant come into play, she says.
“The grant will allow us to collect data from surveys and focus groups to identify the perceptions of different audiences, especially those that have been difficult to reach so far,” Zollinger says.
The problem that Salt Lake City has is not different from many other communities. “We are still a very car-oriented population. The goal of the grant is to create more behavior changes. We have the infrastructure…We need to study the things that will change behavior,” she says.
Salt Lake City has a well-regarded light rail system, as well as heavy rail that runs north and south along the Wasatch Front, a robust bus system, and bike paths, she says. The city is building a bicycle transit center that will be located where the light and heavy rail intersect and will include showers, lockers and a bike repair shop.
If Salt Lake City can identify the triggers that make people change their environmental behavior, Zollinger believes that this data could help other communities with similar demographics.
In Denver city and county, the EPA grant will fund the Neighborhood Climate Prosperity Project. It is a four-pronged project that will target residential energy efficiency; small business energy concerns (mom-and-pop pizza shops don’t usually consider energy efficiency a top priority); sustainable transportation options such as bike sharing; and renewable energy challenges that include using wind and solar energy through local utility companies.
“We’ve already done some residential energy outreach,” says Matthew Marshall of the city’s Environmental Health Department. “We want to focus on low-income housing” so the project is sending out volunteers to go door to door, giving residents free street trees, CFL porch bulbs and information on recycling. The volunteers also are letting residents know about free programs such as the federal weatherization program. In some cases, they may be eligible for a new refrigerator and/or furnace.
The stimulus package gave Denver a good boost, Marshall says, but the grant money enables the city and county to provide even more services to its residents.
The Department of Environmental Health accomplishes its goals with the help of nonprofits such as Groundwork Denver and the Mile High Youth Corp to get the word out and in some cases, to do the energy retrofits needed. Groundwork Denver organizes the door-to-door effort. The Youth Corp trains young adults in job skills, in this case, green job skills, that enable them to do in-home energy audits that include installing low-flow toilet and faucet fixtures.
In Sacramento, the EPA grant will go to expanding river-friendly landscaping. Jeanette Watson, the lead environmental specialist with the Sacramento County Storm Water Program, and Dave Tamayo, the technical environmental specialist, were both involved with the
grant application. Sacramento already had a storm water project in the works. It focuses on reducing pollutants in storm water that come from landscaping. The project takes a holistic approach by coordinating with the different aspects of water pollution: solid waste, water conservation and air quality.
“The EPA grant will demonstrate the benefits of river-friendly landscaping,” says Watson. It will focus on greenhouse gas reduction in terms of water conservation and better management of green waste, says Tamayo, noting that, “Water takes energy to deal with. If you save water, you save energy.”
By designing river-friendly landscaping, homeowners and businesses can control green waste, he says. For example, by reducing the turf area of a lawn and using plants that don’t require a lot of trimming, a resident can create a more energy efficient landscape. Gardening without the use of a lot of machinery is preferable. Shipping out yard waste – such as grass cuttings in the summer or leaves in the fall – requires energy. It also takes energy to process and then more energy to sell it back as compost or mulch.
“Leaving grass cuttings on the lawn, benefits the soil; and instead of raking and removing leaves, leave them on site and use as mulch for shrubs and trees. The leaves will also crowd out the weeds, retain water and reduce soil erosion,” he says.
“We realize, especially in Sacramento, the city of trees, that all leaves can’t be left on site. But if we can just establish practices. Whatever you can do, will make a significant improvement.
“Looking at the right design and maintenance practices, such as using the right plant in the right place,” makes a difference, he says.
Roger Dickinson, a Sacramento county supervisor, has been involved with lobbying for the creation of the Climate Showcase Community Grant from the start. Bringing more resources to the local level is key, he says. This is where actions need to be taken.
“Think globally, act locally” is his motto. “We’re very excited about this,” he says. “Climate change is the quintessential issue. Hopefully, [these grants] will be very smart for the environment.” Using basic landscaping and gardening techniques to reduce waste make sense, he says. “Our approach is to demonstrate techniques that work in reducing greenhouse gases and use this as a foundation for others who are building in the future.”
Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Sacremento) is very pleased with the EPA grant. “This federal funding will support our efforts to continue reducing our community’s greenhouse gas emissions and thus serve a broader purpose in helping to preserve our local natural resources, improve the community’s health, and bolster our regional economy,” she says.
The city of Cincinnati also will be augmenting an existing program, started in 2008 and called the Green Cincinnati Plan (GCP). Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, describes it as a road map to making the city more sustainable. The EPA grant will help fund the outreach and education elements of GCP, he says. “The grant will help us with the leg work to communicate the plan and help motivate participation.”
The GCP offers many recommendations to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment and human health — and save residents money.
“We need to rely more on renewal energy, reduce the number of miles we drive, be conscious of land use such as living closer to our destinations, focus on reducing the landfill and look at our dietary choices and how they impact greenhouse gases,” Falkin says.
Like many of EPA communities, the GCP relies on voluntary measures to achieve its objectives, and counts on participants to act both altruistically and pragmatically.
The EPA created the competitive grant program in 2009 to help communities establish and execute climate change goals. The agency’s hope is that the grants will inspire others to replicate these models and find cost-effective methods to curb greenhouse gases. The first round of grants ($10 million) went to 20 communities, with five more communities to come, pending final review. An additional $10 million in funding will become available later this spring.
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