Some agencies are reaching out to assist local governments in this process through workshops, “funding” books and phone calls.
Cities have until June 25 to apply for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant – California was allocated $351.5 million through this grant by the federal government.
The California Energy Commission recently held workshops on the block grant in Riverside, Santa Rosa, Eureka, Modesto and Monterey to help cities through the bureaucratic hurdles they face when applying for stimulus funds.
“This is all a very challenging endeavor, and we are trying to make it as easy as possible for those people who are in need of federal stimulus dollars, and do it in a way that we are protectors of public dollars,” said Adam Gottlieb, spokesperson for the Energy Commission.
The main goal of the workshops was to demonstrate to small cities and counties how to apply for the funds. In some cases, agencies such as the Energy Commission are learning the ins and outs of the federal stimulus package along with the local governments.
“This is unprecedented in dispersing these funds and we are learning along with the cities and counties how best to improve the product, improve the process,” Gottlieb said.
The city of Carlsbad is currently in the process of applying for $938,900 in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds to go toward a project that entails replacing 7,000 streetlights.
The new lights will use 60 percent less energy and the city expects a substantial payback, said Carlsbad Project Manager Joe Garuba.
“When we did the math in looking at shifting all of the streetlights to induction lighting, the payback is inside of four years and we wind up saving approximately $400,000 per year,” Garuba said.
The $3.5 million project will be funded partially through the block grant, with low interest loans and other energy efficiency grants making up the rest.
Garuba said the Department of Energy has done a lot to reach out to them.
“The folks from the Department of Energy I think are making phone calls to all of the cities saying ‘hey look don’t miss out here is the money we need to make sure we move it,’” he said. “There has just been a rush of people trying to show us ways to spend this money.”
Garuba recently was involved in a webinar conducted by the Energy Commission on the block grant.
“We have a lot of different services, and a lot of different potential applications and so it is useful to know what is out there,” Garuba said.
Overall, Garuba said the process of applying for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant has been relatively smooth.
“As far as grants go, from what I have been told it sounds like it is relatively straightforward,” Garuba said.
League of California Cities
The League of California Cities released its “City Funding Book” three or four days after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in February.
The book is intended to guide cities on how to access and apply for federal funds available.
It includes provisions of the Reinvestment Act, “things cities should know, frequently asked questions and information on possible funding opportunities in categories ranging from the environment to transportation.
As the details of the stimulus funds have shifted and deadlines for applications are set, the information included in the book has gone through minor transformations.
The League has made changes to the book six or seven times and tries to update it at least once every two weeks, said Megan Taylor, consultant with the League of California Cities.
“We have been attempting to keep people informed as to how they can apply and are encouraging them to go directly to the state or the federal agency that is administering the program,” Taylor said. “The expectation is really that they will kind of pick it up from there and identify those opportunities that make sense for them and work with them to make the direct contacts with the state or federal agency so they that get their applications in.”
Blake Ellington is a freelance writer covering local government projects being funded by federal stimulus money.