Prince William County to use stimulus grant to go ‘green'

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lead by example: That's the idea Prince William officials are sticking by as they try to make the county more energy-efficient.

Thanks to a roughly $3.2 million grant entitlement from the U.S. Department of Energy, the county plans to launch several alternative energy initiatives that will help not only turn the government into a "greener" operation but also set a new standard, officials hope, for residents and developers to follow.

"We're making an effort to be more green-focused, and one of the goals of the green initiative is to lead by example; we want to serve as a role model for the community," said Matt Groff, a fiscal analyst for the county. "We want people to see we are walking the walk and not just talking the talk."

The grant is coming from the federal stimulus bill and is part of $3.2 billion the Energy Department is awarding to help communities nationwide become more energy-efficient, Groff said. To date, the county has received $150,000 of the grant. The rest will be awarded after the county's energy-efficiency and conservation strategy, which was submitted last week, is approved, Groff said, adding that the county is allowed to modify its application until it is approved.

Prince William officials plan to use the funding to modify the Judicial Center, the Western District Police Station and the James J. McCoart Administration Building. The projects are expected to be completed by 2012.

Upgrades will include installing sensors that will activate lights only when heat or movement is detected in a room and energy dashboard monitors that will provide real-time data on energy use to building visitors and staff members, Groff said.

Solar panels will be added to the McCoart building, and light levels will be reduced in certain parts of all three facilities, he said.

"This [grant] will allow us to take our least green buildings and put in place new plans for better energy use," said Prince William Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). "It will teach us a lot about what works and what doesn't work as we develop new buildings and help the private sector as they build new buildings."

As part of the effort, the county plans to join a Dominion Virginia Power pilot project that allows 10 localities to test LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, in their streetlamps. Groff said Prince William will switch six of its roughly 6,000 streetlights to LEDs.

"This is a really good program, and we are participating because we want Dominion and NOVEC to offer LED technology," Groff said. "Neither offer LED now, so what [Dominion is] doing is testing manufacturers to see which performs best. And as part of the pilot, they will share all that data with us as well."

Prince William officials said that if they implement all the initiatives in their energy-conservation strategy, the county could save the equivalent of taking 383 cars off the road or planting 521 acres of trees annually.

Nohe, who has been an advocate for alternative energy, said Prince William has already implemented some energy-saving initiatives. Residents recycle a lot and use programmable thermostats to reduce carbon emissions, he said. The county has also found creative ways to reduce its carbon footprint, such as converting methane gas released at the landfill into renewable energy.

County officials said the power plant that converts the landfill's methane gas emissions to energy produces 1.9 megawatts of energy. Each megawatt of energy is roughly equivalent to the amount needed to power 1,000 homes.

Nohe said he wants to explore additional options, including the use of geothermal energy or solar power to heat water. He also wants to create a long-range energy plan for the county.

"Prince William County has already demonstrated a lot of leadership when it comes to alternative energy," Nohe said. "But I want Prince William to become the gold standard in the U.S. for the development and implementation of alternative energy."

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