Miami-Dade County ahead of guidelines in recovery act energy spending
By Ashley Hopkins
By today (9/30), Miami-Dade County will have spent 35% of the $12.5 million it has received in US Department of Energy grants, 15 percentage points ahead of recommendations.
"We are progressing well," said Maggie Fernandez, sustainability program manager for the county's Office of Sustainability. "We have exceeded Department of Energy milestones [and] are working collaboratively with the department. We believe in this program. We want to see it succeed."
Miami-Dade received financing as part of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, funded by 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The county got three years to use the funds.
While the first year was spent getting projects off the ground, Ms. Fernandez said the office plans to use the rest of the funds by year two, less what is needed to finance staff salaries and fringe benefits throughout year three.
"We want the money to go out into the community as quickly as possible," she said, adding that this would allow the office to spend more time monitoring projects.
Susanne Torriente, director for the Office of Sustainability, said that while it took a while to get everything running, all projects are now underway.
"Everything is really starting up," she said. "We took a year to get organized, but now we're in full-fledged project mode."
Of 13 projects in the works over eight county departments, the Office of Sustainability manages five.
In June the county replaced the Homestead Library's roof with a high-reflective cool roof, reducing energy use and air pollution. Now the Office of Sustainability has begun to track how much less energy is used at the location, 700 N Homestead Blvd.
In the works is a community-wide energy efficiency campaign to encourage residents to support energy conservation, renewable energy, recycling and waste reduction. Included is a light bulb exchange that lets residents trade incandescent bulbs for three free energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights, and a $750 resident savings challenge that allows residents to fill out a simple checklist that will help them determine how much money they can save each month by making changes in their home.
The Renovation for Energy Efficiency Loan Program, launched in August, assists businesses in energy-efficiency retrofits. Administered by the South Florida Regional Planning Council, the $1.5 million revolving loan pays for improvements for businesses looking to reduce electricity use.
The county is also working on alternative and renewable energy projects. The Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department is constructing a pipeline from the South Dade Waste Water Treatment Plant to a nearby waste landfill. Digester gases produced at the plant and gases generated at the landfill will be used to create electricity. A groundbreaking is set for Oct. 13.
In addition to its larger projects, the county is hosting home-energy-savings workshops to teach residents cost-effective ways to save resources. Ms. Fernandez said two workshops have been held and four more are scheduled.
"We're really trying to hit the entire community," she said.
As the Office of Sustainability monitors these projects, it's also tracking job creation. It must report the number of jobs created to the federal government quarterly. From April to June 30, 9.2 jobs were created, excluding those leveraged to work on the grant.
This number only includes contractors and positions paid for with federal funds and should rise as additional contracts are awarded, Ms. Fernandez said. She said she will know the number of jobs created from July 1 through Sept. 30 by Oct. 15.
If the county team is going to add more projects, however, it will need financing2. After three years the county will have used up all its allotted funding and is not set to receive more, Ms. Torriente said.
If Miami-Dade is to obtain more assistance, it will have to lobby to make it a legislative priority. The Office of Sustainability is trying to showcase all it has done in the hopes it can receive more grants and spearhead more projects.
According to Ms. Fernandez, the office started to request future funding as soon as the county received the $12.5 million allotment.
"We depend on [federal funding]," Ms. Fernandez said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have the funds that are so important to our community."
While future financing may not be secure, Ms. Fernandez is optimistic, given the county's partnership with the federal government.
"We really feel like we're partners with the Department of Energy," Ms. Fernandez said. "We just need to show success."