Grants will boost energy efficiency

The governments of Lexington and Richland counties, along with Columbia, will replace old office lights with energy-efficient alternatives as part of $5.8 million in federal grants.

While the three jurisdictions plan other conservation projects - including some new options for residents in Richland County to recycle - updating fluorescent fixtures is a major use for the stimulus money.

"That's where we could get the most bang for our buck with energy savings," said Chris Segars, Columbia's grants professional.

And saving energy means saving money. The city alone anticipates cutting $139,336 a year in energy costs and maintenance, since the fixtures will be new, and long-lasting bulbs won't have to be replaced as often.

"It actually pays for itself in less than 10 years' time," said David Knoche, Columbia's general services director. "And we get the side effect of being good stewards of the environment."

Work likely will start shortly after the new year, with projects wrapped up over the next three years.

The grants, made by the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy, include:

- $2,268,600 for Lexington County

- $2,116,800 for Richland County

- $1,424,100 for Columbia

Altogether, the three local governments estimated their projects would create 90 jobs and retain two additional jobs, according to a federal formula.

The three will be looking for ways to collaborate as part of the initiatives, said Mary Pat Baldauf, sustainability coordinator for the city of Columbia. How isn't clear.

But, Baldauf said, "There are resources we all have to use and we all have to share and we all have to conserve - so it just makes sense to get everybody together."

Following are more details on how each jurisdiction plans to use the money.


County Administrator Katherine Hubbard said Lexington County is focusing its grant, the largest of the three, on building improvements that will reduce power bills.

The historic courthouse will get $940,000 in improvements, including new water and air systems, new windows and new lighting.

Similar improvements will be made at eight other office buildings, with new lighting at 19 of the county's 24 fire stations, Hubbard said by e-mail.

The county also built in $20,500 to continue a successful lawn mower exchange program with Richland County. That annual program, first held in April 2007, allows people to retire their gas-powered mowers in favor of electric models that don't pollute the air.


The county has devised 14 different energy projects that will be funded with the federal grant.

County officials made a point of opening the process to energy-saving proposals by municipalities, so Blythewood, Eastover, Forest Acres and Irmo each got a piece of the pie.

Among its projects, the county will develop a light bulb exchange program, providing 2,000 homeowners with $25 rebates if they invest in energy-efficient light bulbs; while Administrator John Perry said the town of Blythewood will set up at least two glass recycling stations.


- The deeds office will update its computer systems so lawyers, mortgage companies and bankers can file more documents electronically.

- Some 25,740 light bulbs that glow in holiday decorations in Forest Acres will be replaced with energy-saving bulbs.

- Streetlights in Eastover will go solar.

- A sidewalk connecting North Royal Tower to Lordship Lane will be built in Irmo in hopes people will walk to the store instead of driving.

- Solar panels will pre-heat water in boilers at Palmetto Health Richland hospital, while both the air-conditioning system at the jail and water-heating system at the courthouse will be updated.

Additionally, light fixtures will be replaced in several buildings, including the judicial center, and motion detectors will be installed to allow the lights to flick on in some offices only when someone enters a room.

Blythewood and Richland County each will purchase battery-powered golf carts for short trips on their grounds.

The county also is investing in 12 more hybrid vehicles, powered with a combination of rechargeable batteries and gasoline. The county fleet includes 36 hybrids now - "and they're performing well," said fleet manager Bill Peters.

"It's the perfect combination of good stewardship and meeting the needs" of county employees on the job, he said.

County spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said the grant builds on some efforts the county had started already with limited resources.

"This will allow us to take it to the next level," she said.


Columbia is investing practically all its grant into new lighting at 46 buildings, including park buildings, office buildings, City Hall, and police and fire stations.

New lighting was proposed two years ago as part of an energy audit city leaders were unable to fund, Segars and Knoche said.

For every $1 invested in new lighting, the local governments could expect to save $4 to $7 in energy costs over the life of the equipment, said Megan Herring, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Energy Office.

Said Baldauf: "These are the right things to do but, when the economy is really bad, these are also ways to save money."