The city's newly created Sustainability Department has received the final two installments in its $3.8 million in federal grant money, clearing the way for work to begin on two major projects designed to improve energy efficiency.
Brett Fidler, the department's director, said the city now has received the entirety of its Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant administered by the U.S. Department of Energy and will shortly begin work on a $1.4 million retrofit program at the Oklahoma State University Medical Center that is designed to result in an annual energy savings of $210,000, as well as a $740,000 downtown pedestrian and traffic lighting system.
"We expect to be through the appropriations process anytime and start spending the money," Fidler said, adding that the pedestrian and traffic lighting project already has gone out to bid.
"Hopefully, by December, that one and the OSU project and a couple of smaller ones will all be underway," Fidler said.
One high-profile project that was on the department's original list has been dropped. Fidler said a plan to allocate $900,000 for a geothermal well project in the Brady Arts District that would produce more than 400 tons of heating and cooling capacity for facilities in that area no longer is part of his department's federal grant.
Fidler said that particular project originally was to receive a total of $3.4 million in federal funding through two sources -- the EECBG grant and federal stimulus package funds administered through the state Energy Office, a division of the state Department of Commerce. But problems with that arrangement arose, he said, when it was determined that the two federal funding streams would cover much of the same work. Because of that, only $2.5 million worth of the work would be eligible to be performed with the twin federal funding streams, and that would have forced a major redesign of the project, he said.
It took several months to resolve the issue, Fidler said, noting that he recently received notification from officials at the Energy Office that they believed they could fund the entire federal portion of the Brady project with their stimulus funds, relieving Tulsa's Sustainability Department of its obligation.
The $6 million geothermal well project now will be funded by the state Energy Office and a grant from the Kaiser Foundation. It is intended to provide heating and cooling for the adjacent Mathews Warehouse, future home of the Adkins Collection and a satellite location of the Philbrook Museum of Art.
The well field will be adjacent to the new Brady Town Square, an $8 million project being built with Vision 2025 money, more Kaiser Foundation funds and other grants. The square is designed to occupy an entire city block bounded by Brady Street to the south, Boston Avenue to the west, Cameron Street to the north and Cincinnati Avenue to the east.
The park will feature a huge green space called the Brady Lawn, as well as performance spaces, food vendors, gardens, a fountain and a public marketplace. Central Freight Lines Inc., a trucking company that occupied the site, moved out earlier this summer, and demolition of the site has begun.
Hundreds of trees and new lighting fixtures also are planned for the district as part of its makeover.
Fidler said the $900,000 his department originally intended to use on the geothermal well field is being reallocated to other projects, mostly to an energy-efficiency audit and retrofit program on city facilities that was going to receive $378,000 in funding. That program now is being funded at $1.2 million.
The rest of the leftover money is being used to pay the salaries of city employees in other departments who have worked on the EEBCG grant, Fidler said.
Other projects that will receive funding under the grant include a renewable energy feasibility assessment on selected city facilities that identifies suitable locations on city-owned buildings and properties for renewable energy installations, primarily solar; the development of a revolving loan program that will make funding available to citizens and small business owners interested in performing energy-efficient upgrades to their homes and places of business; and the development of a long-term energy and sustainability plan that focuses on improving energy efficiency sustainability citywide for the next three to five years.
He said all the projects have to be under contract or obligated by January 2011 or else the money reverts back to the DOE. And all the money must be spent by July 2012. Fidler noted that more than $3 million of the $3.8 million grant has been earmarked for the OSU retrofit, the downtown lighting and the energy-efficiency audit and retrofit for city facilities -- all projects that are well on their way to becoming a reality.
"If all goes well, we should have the majority of it spent soon, and that would give us 18 months to spend the balance," he said.
Fidler said the future of his department at that point will depend largely on how the program is viewed nationwide by Congress, which would have to fund the program again after this grant cycle expires.
"It depends on the success that comes out of it, so it's incumbent on Tulsa and other cities to tell their stories," he said.
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