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Laredo’s Energy Block Grant Cuts City’s Energy Use

By Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas
November 7, 2011


The first time I traveled to Washington for a United States Conference of Mayors’ meeting, the hot issue was developing an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program. I believed that the nation should invest in energy solutions that strengthen America's economy, create jobs locally, and support the immediate use of the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable energy technologies we have. Employing our EECBG grant, Laredo has reduced its electricity usage, cut down on CO2 emissions and ultimately, saved money and fuel usage that we have estimated has resulted in 75 additional jobs in the local economy. Learn more about the Laredo experience and the EECBG Program online at www.eere.energy.gov/wip/eecbg.html.

Laredo’s downtown is a bustling center of commerce between two international bridges that serve as the gateway for travelers between Mexico and the United States. Thousands of people head downtown daily for work or play. Thousands of people equals lots of trash; in fact, downtown trash collection was a major concern for the city as the “Streets of Laredo” need to be clean to remain a tourist attraction. Investing part of its EECBG grant to place 45 solar-powered trash compactors in downtown, this has resulted in cleaner streets, reduced trash truck trips and saved on general vehicle maintenance. The experts tell us that the trash compactors conserve approximately 2,000 gallons of fuel annually and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75,920 pounds.

Another energy'saving project in downtown Laredo was a lighting retrofit project, replacing 122 ornamental incandescent light fixtures with LEDs. The new light emitting diodes are whiter and brighter than their old filament counterparts and use about 125 watts less energy per bulb. We are not only saving 55,600 kilowatt hours and 72,400 pounds in CO2, but also saving on replacement and maintenance as LEDs are replaced every ten years as opposed to annually with the old bulbs.

A massive energy reduction initiative was established when two Laredo recreation centers and the Environmental Services Department were retrofitted with solar panels that combine to achieve 80 kilowatts. The ESD building went one step further by placing a small wind turbine at the facility to also generate alternative, renewable electricity.

“It’s important for people to understand that there are energy sources that are alternatives to fossil fuel burning, which protects our plant by reducing the possibility of warming it up, and saving a lot of money,” explains Ivan Santoyo with the Environmental Services Department.

With these systems, the rec centers are expected to reduce their energy usage by about 25 percent in the summer, 50 percent in the winter, producing and saving approximately 145,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, while reducing greenhouse gases by 189,000 pounds. At the Environmental Services Department, the facility will actually run on the dual sun and wind meters producing about 50-75 percent of the energy used.

Right next door, the city’s Health Department, was plagued by an antiquated and inefficient cooling and heating system, running constantly and delivering only two temperatures: hot and very cold. Thanks to the EECBG grant, the facility’s heating ventilation and air-conditioning system was upgraded with new smart controls and a high seer efficiency system that should result in approximately a 20 percent reduction in energy use and cost savings for the building.

Additionally, the Laredo Environmental Services Department established the Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund as a strategic economic stimulus plan which allows interested citizens to apply for an interest-free energy efficiency home improvement loan of up to $4,000, for viable, sustainable projects that lowers energy consumption bills.

Francisco Patoni, a local homeowner, received the loan to upgrade his home’s air conditioning unit to a more energy efficient unit and Patoni has seen the results: both in his home and in his wallet. More importantly, he is glad that the new unit also has a positive impact to the environment.

“It’s like a dual reciprocal action, it has an impact on both sides: it has an impact on the environment and it has an impact on my personal economy,” said Patoni. “I just love it because it’s a win-win situation all around.”

With the automatic payback established in the application process and a possible future energy usage fee that would be reinvested into the fund, the department is hoping to expand the loan program to reach more citizens.

“We are trying to set the example for the public so they can take these ideas, lose the fear of them, and apply them in their own homes, do investments that will save them money and, at the same time, save the earth,” concluded Santoyo.

Several years ago, the Environmental Services Department took the lead in developing alternative fuel options for Laredo vehicles by building a Compressed Natural Gas or CNG fueling station to service the city’s transit busses. Just recently, thanks to a Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) grant, the facility was upgraded to handle not only the buses, but also, the growing fleet of CNG vehicles. Additionally, a pump was added for the general public so that individuals or companies driving CNG vehicles in Laredo can fuel up at that station at a cost significantly lower than gas or even diesel vehicles. With the abundance of natural gas in the Laredo area, this is one project that officials hope the community embraces, as well.

Developing projects and opportunities to go green, save energy costs, reduce energy used and have a positive impact on the environment by protecting natural resources is a priority for Laredo. Future projects include identifying city buildings that are high energy consumers and find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Laredo hopes that by saving taxpayers’ money, taxpayers and citizens will also find ways to save a little green by going green in very real ways. For more information, contact Xochiti Mora Garcia, Public Information Office at 956-791-7461.