$4.3M federal grant will fund Pierce County enviro projects

Pierce County announced today it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions under a new sustainability initiative funded by the federal stimulus legislation.

On Nov. 18, the U.S. Department of Energy approved the County’s $4.37 million grant application for a package of projects promoting energy efficiency and conservation. The funding comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

An important element of the plan involves hiring a Sustainability Manager for two years to kick off the County’s emphasis on “going green.” Ryan Dicks starts in that role on Nov. 23. Dicks currently works for the King County Office of the Executive. He previously served as president of Air Water Land, an environmental consulting firm; vice president of conservation transactions for the Cascade Land Conservancy; and as a regional director for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, an assignment that included work on several EPA cleanup sites. Other elements of the plan include spearheading an effort to reduce the County government’s carbon footprint, conducting home weatherization projects, and upgrading traffic signals and other inefficient equipment with modern, energy-saving resources.

A closer look at funded projects include the following:

— Replace the county’s 25-year-old HVAC system that serves two floors of the main jail. Most of the areas served by this failing system cannot be occupied until a new system is in place. The new system is expected to save 31,000 kWh and 500,000 CF of natural gas a year;

— Partner with other agencies to convert older homes from woodstoves, oil or baseboard heat to high-efficiency gas furnaces, natural gas inserts or electric heat pumps. This project, which also includes home weatherization outreach, will improve air quality and public health in Pierce County, which is currently the only county in the state that is not achieving air quality standards. The efficiency upgrades will reduce greenhouse gas reductions by more than 70 tons of CO2 equivalents annually;

— Convert 78 traffic signals in Pierce County to LED indicators, which use 90 percent less energy than incandescent signals. This will result in savings of $72,000 a year, based on today’s energy rates;

— Convert the electronic message display board at Sprinker Recreation Center to LED lights, cutting the wattage use from 26,880 to 4,200. The sign, located at the intersection of Military Road and Pacific Avenue in Spanaway, is an important outreach tool that is visible to 95,000 vehicles a day;

— Replace the county’s 10-year-old computer disk storage system. The current unit consumes 13,710 watts per hour, while the new unit will consume just 550 watts per hour;

— Hire a full-time Sustainability Manager for two years to implement these projects and other cost-saving practices as well as identify additional environmental grant opportunities.