SW Fla. counties, cities score nearly $8 million in federal energy grant money

Southwest Florida scored about $7.8 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday.

It is part of a plan by Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu to invest $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation projects in U.S. cities, counties, states, territories, and American Indian tribes.

The awards break down as follows: $179,600 for Bonita Springs, about $3.04 million for Collier County, some $3.05 million for Lee County, and $753,000 just for Fort Myers.

Collier County officials on Thursday were researching which grant application won the clean energy money.

“These investments will save taxpayer dollars and create jobs in communities around the country,” Biden stated in a prepared release.

“Local leaders will have the flexibility in how they put these resources to work – but we will hold them accountable for making the investments quickly and wisely to spur the local economy and cut energy use.”

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, funded by President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will provide formula grants for projects that reduce total energy use and fossil fuel emissions, and improve energy efficiency.

That works out great for Collier County officials working with the Economic Development Council.

EDC’s Project Innovation for stimulating the local economy has targeted three primary industries, said EDC President and Chief Executive Officer Tammie Nemecek: biomedical and health services, technology and training; computer software and services; and clean technology.

That means clean technology and green jobs, Nemecek said Thursday, although she hadn’t yet been contacted about the grant.

Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning received word of the grant money from Collier’s government liaison, Debbie Wight.

In a commission e-mail, Wight wrote that the Ferguson Group, Collier’s lobbyists, reported $3,036,000 in stimulus funding.

“The funding formula is based on population. Collier County automatically qualified for the grant based on the county’s population. Now the county will have to formally apply for the funds for specific projects,” Collier spokesman John Torre stated in an e-mail early Thursday evening.

According to Energy Department guidelines – ratified in the 2007 Energy Bill – that includes a lot of possibilities in both counties: Anything from more energy-efficient traffic signals, to retrofitting air conditioning and heating systems in government buildings.

A brief outline of possible uses follows: energy audits; energy efficiency retrofits in residential and commercial buildings; development and implementation of advanced building codes and inspections; creation of financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements; transportation programs that conserve energy; projects to reduce and capture methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from landfills; renewable energy installations on government buildings; energy efficient traffic signals and street lights; combined heat and power program; and area heating and cooling systems.

“The Block Grants are a major investment in energy solutions that will strengthen America’s economy and create jobs at the local level,” Chu stated in a release. “The funding will be used for the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy technologies we have – energy efficiency and conservation – which can be deployed immediately. The grants also empower local communities to make strategic investments to meet the nation’s long-term clean energy and climate goals.”

Florida, as a whole, received $168,643,400, divided among state, county and city efforts.

“City Hall will be one of the things I’m looking at,” said Fort Myers public works manager Saeed Kazemi. “I’m going to look at everything, but I’m going to be looking at the building first.”

The Department of Energy, Kazemi said, will demand proof that the money is spent in ways that really do save energy as they create jobs.

Assistant Bonita city manager Barbara Barnes-Buchanan said she’s compiling a list of potential projects.

“I’m sure the council will want to discuss it at their next meeting,” she said. “We’ve talked about a variety of green approaches and solar-type programs.”

Thursday, Collier County Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock said he hadn’t heard about the grant, but that’s not unusual.

“Most federal grants... are reimbursements grants,” Brock said. That means, the federal government first spends the money, then asks for reimbursement in a grant application.

“I don’t know anything about that particular grant, but the grant documents should be very explicit in what is required (for) receiving that money,” Brock said.

Federal money that is disbursed, rather than reimbursed, would be routed through his office.

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