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Going green, and saving green
County, schools to get block grant for energy saving measures
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Effingham County has been approved to receive an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for $300,000 from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to implement energy savings projects into the community.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has allotted $2.7 billion for the EECBG Program. These block grants are given to state and local governments for projects that enhance energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Once the Effingham Board of Commissioners accepts the block grant, the bulk of the funds will go to the Board of Education. Approximately $20,000 will be used to retrofit light fixtures in the Effingham County High School gymnasium to t8 fluorescent lamps. T8 lamps turn on instantly and generate less heat, saving ECHS approximately 37,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

The BOE emerald in this is the $260,000 EECBG purchase and installation of a 30-kilowatt photo-voltaic solar array — a giant solar panel — on the roof of one of the schools.

However, the solar array will not eliminate the power bill for the affixed school. All the energy produced likely will be sold back to Georgia Power at a premium rate of about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to BOE Energy Specialist Eric Harris, who spearheaded the EECBG application process.

“It only costs us 8 cents to buy electricity, so we won’t be using any of the electricity we (produce). Eventually, all the electricity we’ll make, we’ll just sell back. We’ll still buy from Georgia Power,” he said.

Savings or revenue from these environmental school projects will be placed in a Green fund, and a Green Team will be assembled and determine how to spend these new resources from a list of projects provided by the school system. Ultimately, the EECBG funds will be more effective because of the resource pool created for environmental projects.

“I was trying to find a way to give my energy department a budget to do further energy projects, and the best solution I could come up with was the solar grid,” Harris said.

The rest of the grant will be used for community outreach and to absorb some of the costs for retrofitting light fixtures in the Historic Effingham County Courthouse, a project already seeking LEED certification.

To maximize the grant, the county will use $18,000 in EECBG funds, rather than its designated special purpose local sales tax option dollars, for a portion of courthouse retrofitting costs. The energy efficient investments throughout the building will potentially reduce power usage by 27 percent.

“(The county’s) overall goal in obtaining this grant is to save taxpayer dollars,” said Adam Kobek, project manager for the Board of Commissioners.

The grant also will be used to promote energy efficiency in small businesses and residences through Energy Star Online Portal and GreenQuest. These free services allow users to track their energy bills for usage and savings from their own power conservation projects. Local small businesses will be invited to the school system’s computer lab to learn how to use these services at a “GreenQuest Fest,” and a professional engineer will be hired for $2,000 in EECBG funds to assist a local business acquiring an Energy Star recognition plaque.

The Energy Star Portal and GreenQuest are the same tracking programs that the Energy Specialist will use to verify savings from the green projects in the school system.

With this grant and these projects, Effingham County hopes to harness its resources more efficiently and effectively while setting an example for other municipalities.