St. Pete's going green with solar water heaters

05/29/12 Janelle Irwin
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St. Petersburg officials are celebrating the completion of a federally funded energy efficiency program. A new solar water heater on the roof of the city’s Coliseum and twenty others will save the city more than $22,000 a year. But U.S. Representative Kathy Castor said saving money isn’t the program’s only benefit.

“Created jobs by putting solar panels on the Coliseum and many city of St. Petersburg facilities like City Hall. It updated the air conditioning systems at community centers and public parks. It’s a very wise investment because it saves taxpayers money at the same time put people to work like contractors at a time when the unemployment rate was high. So, it’s a real win-win for the community.”

The Coliseum is one of 21 city facilities to receive the new solar water heaters. It’s part of a larger project to install efficient lighting, heating systems and vehicle fleets. The nearly two and a half million dollar project began in 2010 and is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster said the initiative will provide long term sustainability and savings.

“We’re looking at spending capital dollars and making investments that will help us reduce our general operating requirements.”

And because of the federal stimulus funds, Foster said the city doesn’t even have to foot the bill for the improvements.

“This is real money. The energy savings that will be derived from these energy efficient projects will absolutely pay for the projects themselves which we used DOE dollars to do.”

City planners hired locally-owned small businesses to work on the various projects. Places like Gladden Park in North St. Pete and Lake Vista Recreation Center in South St. Pete are now using energy efficient air conditioning systems. Foster said St. Pete is a perfect place to start upgrading.

“Which help stimulate job creation and the use of some very needed grant monies to provide energy efficiencies through many of our aged city buildings that we have in the city of St. Petersburg.”

And the Green City initiative in St. Petersburg is drawing national attention. Michael Connors, St. Pete’s public works administrator said Vice President Joe Biden reached out to mayors in cities where energy funding was appropriated.

“The Vice President, in a very calm and assuring manor, considered our program as a poster child that he felt comfortable in talking to others throughout the country.

The program also targeted some local non-profits. The Community Action Stops Abuse program, or CASA, received an energy audit from Progress Energy Florida that resulted in cost savings for the group and some of the individuals they help.

“The CASA two client apartment buildings and the retail building by installing 15 energy efficient heat pumps at these buildings, they will not only lower their electric costs, the residents will be more comfortable and they are eligible for a $3500 rebate.”

A representative from CASA was able to leave the event with that check today. The completion of the solar water heater at the Coliseum marked the end of the two-year initiative, but there’s still more work to do. City officials are working on sealing a deal with a German Consortium to build a solar plant in St. Petersburg. If it happens, the factory would create 350 jobs. But that group wants to make sure there’s a market for it. Member of Congress Kathy Castor said this project is a good start.

“The city here, and the entire community is committed to clean energy solutions so the St. Petersburg Chamber and others have been reaching out to this consortium to bring solar farm to the city of St. Petersburg and I think that’s positive. This is the Sunshine State and we should be doing everything we can to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and get good clean energy from the sun that’s free.”

And whether or not St. Pete is successful in that measure, Castor said the city – and others across the nation – need to keep it going.

“We’ve got to continue to invest in clean energy solutions; solar, wave action, wind. These are important investments that really should be on par with any kind of taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas.”

In all, 25 local businesses benefited from the 2-year project. It also included upgrading to more efficient lighting at two downtown parking garages. Funding was also given to local charities like Goodwill and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic to improve energy efficiency on their own.

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