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City takes steps to provide energy stability

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff
Monday December 03, 2001

The City’s energy officer presented the City Council with an overview of a developing plan that will initiate dramatic changes in the city’s energy sources, building materials and energy education programs. 

The presentation was in part designed to give the council information before approving $500,000 for energy programs that have been developed as a result of the energy crisis earlier this year. The funding will come from a $1.7 million windfall the city received from the Utility Users Tax during the energy crisis, which saw a sharp increase in gas and electricity prices. The council is scheduled to approve the funding on Dec. 11.  

While gas and electricity prices have leveled out, the council is still anxious to implement a variety of new energy programs that will make the city less vulnerable to an unpredictable and volatile energy market. 

City Energy Officer Neil De Snoo was assisted in the presentation by representatives from the Energy Commission, the Berkeley Energy Technical Advisory Group and a private energy consulting agency, all of which have participated in the development of the proposed plan. 

“Much of the presentation was a little dry because it’s tech stuff but that’s where the rubber hits the road,” De Snoo said. 

De Snoo said many of the programs that will be included in the final energy plan have already been funded and are underway. The funding that the council is expected to be approved on Dec. 11 will go to nine different programs including low-income services, a green building program and municipal energy conversion projects. 

The largest chunk of the budget — $291,000 — will go to the conversion of some public buildings to solar-generated electricity as well as other energy-efficient measures.  

According to a report that was presented to council on Tuesday, Several city buildings have been proposed for conversion to energy produced by solar photovolotaic cells, which are capable of converting the sun’s energy into electricity.  

The sites proposed for conversion include the north and south senior centers, Civic Center and the Central Library, which is currently being renovated. 

The city has already installed photovoltaic lighting at Cragmont Park largely because there are no electrical power lines nearby to service the site and because the park does not require lighting at night. 

The city is also developing a Green Building Program, which will receive $183,000. The city has already created the Green Building Resource Center at the Permit Center as well as publishing the Green Building Reference Guide. The additional funds will go to hiring a program coordinator, staff training and additional publications.  

GBRC gives developers and architects advice on the latest energy efficient technologies, designs suggestions that enhance the use of natural light and environmentally safe building materials. 

According to the report, GBRC has already provided consulting on 25 projects that represent over 270,00 square feet of new construction.  

The council is also considering assigning $87,000 for a low-income program that will help seniors and low-income families pay PG&E bills, assist in insulating their homes and other weatherization services. The funding amount was reduced from $190,000 because of an increase in state and federal funding for similar low-income programs. 

Some of the other programs that are being considered for funding include a Bulk Purchasing Program that will continue to make energy efficient products available to Berkeley residents at wholesale prices, the Small Business Program that has already improved the lighting efficiency of 1,000 businesses in Berkeley and Oakland and the Youth Energy Program that trains high school students to weatherize and install compact fluorescent lighting. The students have so far serviced 289 homes and four homeless shelters. 

Regardless of what direction the state’s energy market goes in the coming years, Energy Commission Chair Devra Bachrach said funding for the Community Energy Plan is money well spent.  

“There’s always an advantage to using less energy,” she said. “In addition to reducing your energy bill and having less impact on the environment which benefits residents, the city will have more control over it’s energy sources.”