Small cities and counties were delegated the funds through the Energy Commission on March 26 when the Department of Energy (DOE) made $351 million in stimulus funds available for local governments through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. Large cities and counties had to apply for their portion of funding by June 25 through the DOE.
The 265 small cities and 44 small counties in California now have until January 12, 2010 to apply for the funds that will go toward projects that should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy use increase jobs and economic vitality.
“All the programs or projects that they [cities and counties] apply for have to have some element of those [attributes] in there,” said Susanne Garfield, assistant executive director for the Energy Commission.
Under the Energy Commission guidelines, small cities are considered to be cities with fewer than 30,000 people and small counties are counties with fewer than 200,000 people minus a large city.
These projects will need to be complete by mid to late 2012 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Cities will be eligible for a minimum of $25,000 while counties will be eligible for a minimum of $50,000.
Small Town Concerns
The Energy Commission has held a series of public forums and has contacted each city and county that is eligible for the funds. The forums have led most local governments to apply jointly, Garfield said.
“The big concern is that some of the smaller cities are saying $25,000 is not a lot of money, so they are probably going to be doing some partnerships with other local entities or city to maybe to get a larger pot of money for a bigger regional program,” Garfield said.
Another concern that has come from public administrators out of these forums is that smaller cities and counties tend to not have the staff support to deal with applying for block grant funds that their larger counterparts may have.
“We are trying to work with them on that,” Garfield said. “As with any new program, there is going to be bumps along the way, but most of these cities and counties are familiar with energy efficiency and conservation.”
The Energy Commission also has designed the grant allocation process to take into consideration unemployment numbers for the area – something the larger cities and counties of the state did not have the benefit of in their population-based grant application process, Garfield said.
Small cities and counties can apply for the funds at www.enery.ca.gov/recovery.
The DOE application deadline for larger cities and counties has come and gone and some cities have received their applications back with requested changes, while others have been given the green light.
The city of Santa Clarita applied for five program funding requests on June 23 worth $1.5 million. The city was later informed that they needed to remove one of the programs applied for and that some language needed changing.
On July 21, the DOE had the city scrap one of the programs – $40,000 for new UV air conditioning coils for city facilities.
“They were confused about the technology,” said Heather Merenda of the Environmental Services Division of the city of Santa Clarita. “Once they work out what the technology is and they understand it, then it won’t be a problem next time.”
The $40,000 was reprogrammed into one of the other programs the city had applied for – the retrofitting of lights on city bridges to induction style lighting.
The DOE also had questions on whether a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review would be required for LEED-certification energy efficiency upgrades to a new city library. The DOE asked if there were any historic buildings near the future site of the new library and if there was any waste from the demolition of the strip mall that was demolished at the site, Merenda said.
“They wanted to make sure we weren’t tearing down anything historic,” Merenda said.
The questions were cleared up and DOE reviewers determined a NEPA review would not be required for the project, Merenda said.
The application was returned again by the DOE for a language change on September 18 and returned by Merenda a few days later. The city of Santa Clarita plans to have the stimulus funds ready to be utilized by November, Merenda said.
“I think everyone dealing with these funds; this whole thing is a learning process because there is a lot of reporting and a lot of things that are required that aren’t standard when you are dealing with your federal grants,” Merenda said. “They are really trying to get these funds out quickly in the world to do some economic good and usually as someone who has done a lot of grants, it is an excruciating process.”
Meanwhile, some local governments have already received funding approval and have their projects out to bid.
The city of Elk Grove was approved to receive $1 million in stimulus funding by the DOE for an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). The project went out to bid on September 10 and construction is likely to begin in the next few weeks, said Elk Grove Public Information Officer Christine Brainerd.
The city of Bakersfield has successfully applied for $3.04 million in stimulus funds to help power a wastewater treatment facility through solar energy.
“We are developing our bid package for the solar project and should have it ready to go out to bid in early January,” said Steven Teglia, Bakersfield administrative analyst with the city manager’s office.
Blake Ellington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.