POSTED ON NOVEMBER 30, 2011:
City of Tulsa forges ahead with new plan for economic growth and a greener future
Some call it a tightening of the belt, others call it a "Sustainability Plan." Potato, puh-tey-toh. A plan by any other name would save the same cash -- and fuel the same economic growth for the region.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. recently announced a new Sustainability Plan for the city of Tulsa at Mohawk Water Treatment plant.
The plan contains a to-do list with more than 60 specific recommendations, action plans and strategies to save money and build an economic future from Tulsa's history in the energy sector.
"We currently live in a time of limited financial resources so we, as a city, must find ways to do more with less and set an example for others," said Bartlett. "These circumstances force us to be creative as we look to the future with an eye toward growing our economy."
Everyone's pinching pennies these days, even our city government. But if done right, the city may just pull off its vision for a streamlined future where Tulsa takes full advantage of the rising need for clean energy and sustainability around the globe.
Oil Capital of the World Re-Born
"Sustainability has emerged in the last few years as a strategy for not only saving money and helping the environment, but for creating energy-related economic development opportunities, and ultimately jobs," Bartlett said. "Tulsa has the legacy, resources and the institutional knowledge of the entire energy industry."
Tulsa, once boosted as the Oil Capital of the World, is uniquely poised to marry old, new and alternative energy sources.
The city already has one leading tech cluster -- compressed natural gas -- and the sustainability plan offers guidance on leveraging this and other resources.
"We're tracking the city's energy heritage from traditional to emerging technologies and focusing now on compressed natural gas," said Brett Fidler, the city of Tulsa's sustainability director. "The city of Tulsa and the region actually have most of the manufacturing expertise to go into CNG stations and retrofits. It's a good fit for the city to build a clean tech business cluster."
The mayor recently feted the grand opening of Go Natural CNG, a compressed natural gas vehicle company, in Tulsa. The Utah-based company expanded into T-Town to take advantage of our "thriving second century energy market," according to a press release from the mayor's office.
"Compressed natural gas as a fuel is no longer a niche market," Bartlett proclaimed at the opening in late October. "The innovations within the energy and transportation industries and our strategic pursuit of these technologies have placed Tulsa on the forefront of this innovation."
Go Natural CNG's CEO Lucas Kjar said, "Our research revealed that Oklahoma is the ideal place to expand our CNG conversion business."
Kjar also said Oklahoma's statewide CNG incentives are "among the highest in the nation."
Go Natural, which initially hired 10 local workers, is currently converting the city of Owasso's municipal vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas. Depending on demand, the company may hire another 10 within six months, according to the release.
The Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy or TARE board added bid specifications for the city's new trash contract that include CNG-fueled dump trucks.
The city isn't planning to turn its back on fossil fuels, though. "We realize it's not about going in and switching away from fossil fuels," Fidler said. "The economy in Tulsa and Oklahoma counts on existing energy technology...but we're cognizant of that transition to more alternative fuels, so that Tulsa and the region are not left behind over the next 25 to 50 years."
Tightening the Municipal Belt
But first, there's the matter of cutting down on the city's own energy usage. URS Corp., an engineering design firm and federal government contractor based in San Francisco, developed Tulsa's new sustainability plan over a six-month period with input from city workers.
"Sustainability is not about telling people, 'You have to live in the dark and make your own paper and do that kind of thing,'" Fidler said in a recent city-produced YouTube video about the new plan.
"It's just really about being responsible with what you have, and making sure that you utilize your resources so that the next generation can utilize theirs," Fidler said.
The plan focuses on managing, tweaking and maximizing Tulsa's assets in the areas of energy management, water management, solid waste and recycling, fleet management, procurement, alternative and renewable energy and economic development.
In 2011, the city of Tulsa spent $20 million on energy, with the lion's share -- about $13 million, according to Fidler -- eaten up by "electricity, natural gas, thermal HVAC, boilers, water and a lot of money on lighting," he said.
"That's where we're really going to focus our efforts," Fidler continued. "In our first year, [saving] 5 to 10 percent [of those costs] will be doable."
The plan gives step-by-step instructions on how to use resources and taxpayer dollars more efficiently.
So, where do we start? To get the ball rolling, the city will push forward on the initiatives that are low or no-cost. "A lot of those are behavioral," Fidler told UTW. "Basically, it's about training employees to behave in a certain way, to use equipment in a certain way."
Plus, since the city's lighting and HVAC systems are automated, "nobody has looked at the systems lately to see if lights are on" that could be turned off, Fidler explained.
To keep a closer eye on energy usage, the city is moving toward updates every 15 minutes instead of daily or even hourly kilowatt usage readings. "It allows us to know when the HVAC systems come on and off, to see when lighting systems are going on and off," Fidler said. Over the course of just a few days, quicker reaction times and updated information can lead to dramatic savings.
The Office Federal Taxes Built
While practical, no-nonsense ideas are implemented, Fidler and the city's Office of Sustainability will work toward accomplishing the more in-depth, complex changes.
How will they fund these initiatives? Fidler said a 2006 third-penny sales tax will make about a million dollars or more available for the larger sustainability plans.
But first things first. Before the city could implement efficiency and sustainability changes, they needed someone to manage it all. This is where Fidler comes in.
A city of Tulsa employee for 12 years, Fidler was appointed by former Mayor Kathy Taylor in December 2008 to act as a special advisor who could oversee efficiency projects funded by a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Fidler, along with former administrators and consultants, developed six projects to spend the federal money.
One of those projects included funding the sustainability plan and the office of sustainability, Fidler said. One of Bartlett's first actions as mayor was to establish the new office in February 2010.
Fidler's position and the office "is grant-funded until next summer," he said.
"I haven't cost the city very much," Fidler laughed.
A very efficient way of managing the city office focused on saving local tax dollars and finding Tulsa's way through a tough economy to a better, cleaner, more efficient future.
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