As the economic downturn hits municipal budgets, towns are looking for ways to cut back on their expenditures. One easy to achieve step is referred to as “low hanging fruit.” An earlier post discussed President Obama’s plan to help insulate older homes, a quick and effective way to inexpensively reduce heating and cooling costs. In an article last year, Wall Street Journal Columnist Jim Carlton highlighted a number of cities both domestic and abroad that are attempting to curb energy consumption. Among the projects he detailed was Chicago’s rooftop garden program. Begun in 2001, the initiative has added 4 million square feet of green roofs as of 2008. The century old City Hall was one of the first buildings to have a garden added to its roof. Before the installation, rooftop temperatures reached 160oF (70oC). According to the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment, the planted version of the City Hall Roof ranges from 91 – 119°F (33-48°C). “The savings were felt immediately, with the annual power bill for the building falling by 11%, or almost $10,000.”
In an interview on NPR, Mr. Carlton cited changes underway in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The city has replaced the old light bulbs in its streetlamps to light emitting diodes (LEDs) which are 50% more efficient than incandescent bulbs. Despite the initial costs and the concern of some residents, the program has taken off. According to CompoundSemiconductor.net Ann Arbor installed more than 1,000 LED streetlights in late 2007.
“The City anticipates a 3.8-year payback on its initial investment. The LED lights typically burn five times longer than the bulbs they replace and require less than half the energy.
Each fixture draws 56 watts and is projected to last 10 years, replacing fixtures with bulbs that use more than 120 watts and last only two years. Full implementation of LEDs is projected to cut Ann Arbor’s public lighting energy use in half and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2,425 tons of CO2 annually, the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road for a year.”
These programs take a long view in an age when the immediacy of budget constraints reigns supreme. Mr. Carlton also discusses steps being taken in Palm Desert, California (reduced energy consumption); Amsterdam, Netherlands (water based air conditioning); Beijing, China (cuts in energy consumption); London, England (local energy production); Aspen, Colorado (efficiency); New York, New York (tidal energy); and Thane, India (solar). In each of these projects municipalities are working to reduce their reliance on nonrenewable fuels and in many cases decrease their overall energy consumption, which has a direct impact on the bottom line in helping to balance the budget.
- Eric Wilson