Manatee may get $2.4M in stimulus

MANATEE — The U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked $169 million for Florida in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, and Manatee County will get a $2.4 million share of that stimulus package.

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the county will need to apply for the grants for projects that improve energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel emissions.

According to the energy department Web site, the funding can be used for transportation programs that conserve energy, the reduction and capture of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, and renewable energy installations, such as solar panels, on government buildings.

The county’s Green Team, a committee of representatives from each department, will help identify what projects will best qualify for the funding.

Brenda Rogers, director of the county Agriculture and Resource Conservation Department and head of the Green Team, said the committee has been meeting for some time to look for ways the county government can save money and become more environmentally sustainable through energy efficiency.

“We’ve looked at the activity, procedures and process of government to aid in the greening of the county,” Rogers said.

She said the team will do cost-benefit analyses on the projects.

“We’ll look at benefits of the changes,” Rogers said, “but at the same time keep within the budget and ensure it has a good payback in the short term and long run.”

Jim Staples, director of the county Property Management Department, said now that the money has reached the state for distribution, a consultant will be hired to make sure the county is positioned properly to receive the grants.

The money has many rules attached so that the energy department can monitor the number of jobs created or retrained, the amount of energy saved, how much greenhouse gas emissions were reduced, and how much renewable energy capacity was increased.

Staples said the county has several old buildings that could be retrofitted with energy-saving devices and fittings, such as new windows, or energy-efficient lighting and air-handling equipment.

Some of those buildings are scheduled for such renovations, such as the Historic County Courthouse, and the grant funds could help pay for it.

Bradenton City Clerk Carl Callahan said the city has received notice that it also is eligible for up to $544,000 of those Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds.

“We will have to look at ways to implement them,” Callahan said.

“That is something we’ll be doing in the near future.”

The $787 billion economic stimulus program President Barack Obama signed into law in February includes $3.2 billion in energy efficiency funds for all 50 states, and U.S. territories and Native American tribes to share.