From Beth Clark, Charlotte campaign manager, Sierra Club Climate Recovery Initiative:
The power is in our hands – Charlotte has an exciting and unprecedented opportunity to become a clean energy leader in the Southeast, simultaneously strengthening our economy and protecting our environment. Using the $6.7 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) strategically can be a down payment toward our clean energy future and regional leadership. This is part of the vision of the federal economic recovery package: to enable communities to come out of the current recession ready to be stronger and more competitive in the future.
Last week Charlotte received initial funding for a consultant to gather ideas from citizens on the best use of economic recovery funds. We have suggestions on how to get started.
The Sierra Club supports projects and programs that will focus on energy efficiency investments. Because the vast majority of America’s buildings do not operate anywhere near peak efficiency – Charlotte’s buildings being no exception – we envision a multi-faceted building retrofit program. Such a program will lower utility bills for residents and the commercial sector alike, improve air quality, and grow local business and jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced.
Our first recommendation is that the city use the federal block grants to lead by example, auditing the energy performance of its own buildings, and making the recommended changes from tune-ups to equipment replacements. All project data should be published so that private commercial building owners can follow the city’s lead. Additionally, a portion of the resulting energy bill savings should be set-aside for further clean energy projects, leveraging the initial grant-funded investments.
Second, we encourage the city to direct funds for non-government building projects to create additional case studies and showcase the economic, comfort, and health benefits of retrofitted buildings. Low-income and non-profit developments would be great places to start.
Third, the block grant funds should provide seed capital to develop funding mechanisms that will facilitate clean energy investments in private buildings on a mass scale. We should explore ideas such as revolving loan funds and an “opt-in” property tax-based financing method.
Finally, it is critical to engage residents in this challenge. As citizens, we have the power not only to advocate for the wise investment of this money, but we also have enormous power resources at our fingertips, by making our homes and businesses energy efficient and by developing energy wise habits. To this end, the city could use block grant funds to implement an outreach campaign through neighborhood associations, schools, and business organizations where volunteer experts train residents to train each other on simple low cost energy saving measures that can reduce energy bills 10 to 25 percent. The Sierra Club stands ready to assist.
By investing in strategic, practical, and proven clean energy solutions, Charlotte has the opportunity to become the leading clean energy city in the Southeast. Let’s seize this opportunity