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Recovery in Action: "Energy Squads" in the Twin Cities

The Recovery Act has been busy lately, see what it's been providing in your region.

Before we get into the national round-up, we wanted to highlight one particularly action-packed story out of Minnesota. The headline from the Star-Tribune is 'Energy squads' find and stop waste":

As the biggest storm of the season so far descends on the Twin Cities, some lucky homeowners are getting expert help battening down the hatches and lowering their utility bills. The bonus? It's costing them peanuts.

The Center for Energy and the Environment (CEE) in Minneapolis and Neighborhood Energy Connection (NEC) in St. Paul, both nonprofits dedicated to energy efficiency, began pilot programs in the fall in select neighborhoods. Their crews replace light bulbs, wrap fiberglass blankets around water heaters and weatherstrip doors. All the homeowners receiving these customized services had to do was attend a free workshop, then pay $30. Besides the installed products, they get utility-bill savings averaging $127 a year.

Xcel Energy Inc. and CenterPoint Energy pay both programs' labor costs as part of their efforts to meet state-mandated conservation goals. But in January the two utilities will begin offering Home Energy Squad, their own joint program, to other customers in the seven-county metro area. It will be a limited version of the neighborhood-focused visits offered by NEC and

CEE, and will expand over the next three years. You must be a customer of Xcel electric and either Xcel gas or CenterPoint gas to be eligible. This is the first time the utilities have collaborated on such a broad scale, said Todd Berreman, who oversees CenterPoint's conservation programs.

And what allowed CEE and NEC to expand expontially? You got it, the Recovery Act. Who else has been reaping the benefits of the Recovery Act? Let’s go with alphabetical order so as not to offend anybody:

Alaska, AP, 12/21/09:

Rural Alaska Vilalges to Get High-Speed Internet: "A partnership between an Alaska contracting company and a firm from the Lower 48 has won the contract to help bring high-speed Internet to areas of Southwest Alaska.  The group Rivada SeaLion was one of 2,200 national applicants for stimulus grants to help extend high-speed Internet into rural locations. The first round of grants - $182 million out of $2.5 billion - was announced this week by the Department of Agriculture.  Rivada SeaLion received a $25.3 million grant that will create 60 jobs in the region. Its task is expanding high-speed Internet to 53 villages ranging from Emmonak to Dillingham."

California, Monterey Herald, 12/22/09:

Housing Authority gets $1.4M from feds to install solar panels: "About 120 public housing apartments in the county will soon be powered by the sun.  Installation of solar panels for the units, operated by the Housing Authority of Monterey County, began Monday. The project is funded with $1.4 million in federal stimulus funds the Housing Authority recently received, said Starla Warren, the authority's director of development.  The Housing Authority sought enough funding to install solar panels for 600 units, Warren said… Emard Electric of Loomis won the bid to install the solar electronics. Emard selected solar inverters from PV Powered of Bend, Ore. Although the companies are not based in Monterey County, they are required to hire half of their crews from the county and will hire a person from Rancho Cielo, a program for troubled youths in Salinas."

Florida, Miami Herald, 12/20/09:

Florida takes the lead: "Better batteries will be crucial both to powering electric vehicles and to making wind and solar power more grid-friendly. Here, too, Florida is at the front of the crowd.  One of the world's leading makers of advanced batteries, Saft, chose Jacksonville as the site for a new plant. Where the Cecil Field military base used to stand, workers will manufacture cutting-edge lithium-ion batteries for use in planes and military vehicles. And to store solar power. Saft expects to employ hundreds of workers at the new plant. Up against dozens of competitors, the Jacksonville plant won a $95 million federal stimulus grant for high-tech batteries."

Indiana, Fort Wayne Daily News, 12/21/09:

Fort Wayne gets $4 million in stimulus funds for road work: "City officials announced today about $3 million of federal stimulus funds will pay for 10.64 miles of pavement milling and resurfacing on major City streets in 2010… In addition to the pavement resurfacing projects, two trail projects also are receiving funding. The funds will replace the wooden decking on seven Rivergreenway boardwalks, ranging in 15 to 35 years in age. The wood boards will be replaced with the vinyl DeckLok system that will reduce or eliminate splinters, scratches, fading, decay, loose boards and slick conditions when wet. Providing connectivity to existing trails, local contractor Brooks Construction will build a half-mile, 8-foot-wide trail along Covington Road between Scott Road and Sycamore Hills Drive."

Iowa, Times Republican, 12/21/09:

"Energy Squads" in the Twin Cities: "University of Iowa staff could soon be driving electric trucks charged on solar power… It all hinges on a solar charging station. Planning for such a station … got under way almost two years ago, but the project lacked funding …Hopes were revived this year when the Iowa Office of Energy Independence announced a round of grants funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act… The state awarded the project a $250,000 technology demonstration grant earlier this month. It didn't get another public projects grant the UI was seeking, so it remains about $390,000 shy of the $1.28 million it will need. Efforts are continuing to obtain other grants… At the time OPN Architects worked with the UI to design the charging station, it was believed to be the largest solar installation yet in Iowa, said James Meier-Gast, an OPN architect who specializes in green design. It would … provide …enough to charge up to 47 electric vehicles and would even provide power back to the grid when it is not needed for charging, Foresman said." 

Kentucky, Business Lexington, 12/22/09:

NIH grant to allow UK study on plants with medicinal benefits: "A top University of Kentucky professor is leading a consortium of scientists from Michigan State, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Iowa State, the University of Mississippi, Purdue and Texas A&M in a $6 million hunt to know more about the medicinal uses of plants. UK College of Agriculture professor of plant biochemistry Joseph Chappell is leading the team with a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the molecular genetics and biochemical potential of 14 common plants known for their ability to be used in medications… Funded through NIH and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, UK Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station…Chappell’s foxglove research means learning opportunities for UK’s post doctoral fellows and graduate students who work in his lab. Undergraduates, especially those in the Biotech program with its research project requirement, will also participate…All of the research will be made public… ‘We can’t sequester any of this information,’ Chappell said. ‘It’s for the research community as a whole.’… UK has an extra advantage over other institutions in the project. ‘We have the College of Agriculture right next door, the College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy close by,’ he said, noting that some of the other universities don’t have colleges of medicine and/or pharmacy…The high incidence of heart disease in Kentucky gives UK’s doctors and pharmacists an incentive to follow Chappell’s research on foxglove… Chappell and his researchers have to finish their work by October 1, 2011."

Maryland, The Baltimore Sun, 12/22/09:

Baltimore to get $6.37 million from U.S. Energy Dept.: "Baltimore will receive $6.37 million of stimulus money from the Department of Energy, a portion of which will be used for community energy grants, according to Mayor Sheila Dixon. Dixon said Monday at a news conference in West Baltimore that $1 million of the funds would go to community and nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing cost-saving energy improvements in neighborhood facilities. The city will make grant applications available by spring, and is expecting to distribute awards of between $20,000 and $50,000, according to officials… The remaining stimulus money - more than $5 million - will be used in 18 city programs, including the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, an initiative that helps households reduce energy use. Officials say there are also plans to install building retrofits in city facilities to encourage utility cost savings."

New Jersey, The Daily Journal, 12/22/09:

Stimulus funds put computers in Vineland schools: "The city's school district is tapping $816,000 in federal stimulus funds to revamp computer labs in its elementary and middle schools. The project is not just about new hardware, although the funds will pay for some of that, said Steve Dantinne, the district's technology coordinator. Each school will get 30 new computers… District officials have discussed the project for a while, Dantinne said, noting the availability of the federal funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made it possible to proceed."

New Mexico, New Mexico Business Weekly, 12/21/09:

New Mexico lands stimulus grant for broadband: "The New Mexico State Library has received $1.5 million in federal stimulus funds to support the expansion of high-speed Internet access. The money will support the Fast Forward New Mexico Initiative, which encompasses training programs at public and tribal libraries to increase the skills of citizens using the Internet, a statewide broadband awareness campaign and a New Mexico Broadband Conference to promote the benefits of high-speed Internet access for all citizens, especially those in rural areas. The initiative also will reach out to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Small group trainings in libraries in 15 communities also are scheduled to take place. The Department of Commerce estimates the Fast Forward campaign will result in 3,000 new household broadband subscribers, 1,000 new business and institutional broadband subscribers and 3,200 new users at public computer centers."

New Mexico,The New Mexico Independent, 12/21/09:

Report: Stimulus helped New Mexicans with poverty standing: "A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds that the stimulus package helped lift tens of thousands of New Mexicans over the poverty line. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) also helped more than 200,000 with their ‘severity of poverty.’ The study ‘examine[d] the effect on poverty of seven ARRA provisions: the expansion of three tax credits for working families, two provisions that strengthen unemployment insurance assistance, a provision that boosts food stamp benefits, and a one-time payment for retirees, veterans, and people with disabilities’ in a number of states, including New Mexico. The seven provisions used by the center only cover “about one-fourth of the recovery act’s total spending.’  The study found that ARRA Act kept 6 million Americans out of poverty, including between 38,000 and 70,000 New Mexicans.  The study defined being kept out of poverty as if a family’s ‘estimated income is below the poverty line without the recovery act provisions but above the poverty line with the provisions.’ The CBPP is a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington D.C.”

North Carolina, Triangle Business Journal, 12/21/09:

Feds grant $1.5M for three Raleigh projects: "The city of Raleigh will receive three federal funding infusions worth more than $1.5 million for a trio of local projects, the city said Dec. 18. The largest chunk, $750,000, will go toward a new Capital Area Transit operations and maintenance facility. The $22.5 million project already has received more than $11 million in federal stimulus funds. The 23-acre facility is being built on Poole Road. It will accommodate 125 buses and will be able to expand to handle as many as 200 buses. Raleigh also will receive $500,000 in stimulus funds to help build the Dempsey E. Benton Water Treatment Plant’s backwash waste treatment facility. That $95 million project is slated for completion in May. Another $300,000 in federal funds will go for software and portable scanners that will be used in a rapid fingerprint identification pilot project."

Ohio, The Daily Sentinel, 12/22/09:

TPRSD receives stimulus funds for upgrades: "Tuppers Plains Regional Sewer District has received a grant through the federal economic stimulus program and loan funds to upgrade its 15 year-old sewer system. The district will use the funds to install a new building to house its pumping system, new plumbing and a tractor and truck. The local project is one of 41 to receive a portion of $51.8 million for water quality improvement announced Thursday by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Projects like the TPRSD project are funded through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidies, matched with low-interest loans. Funding structures including the Water Supply Revolving Loan Account for drinking water projects and the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund for water pollution control projects, including the Tuppers Plains project. The district will use a $150,278 ARRA subsidy and an interest-free loan of $50,278 to repair its sewer lagoons, replace a pump house with a new weather-proof building, install new valves, a primer and lagoon gauges, and purchase a new tractor and work truck for district use. According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the WPCLF, from which the Tuppers Plains grant will be paid, will receive $220.6 million in ARRA funding and $730 million from other sources. The funding will provide more than $950 million for water quality improvement projects to stimulate the Ohio economy. When compared to market loan rates, the combination of stimulus grants and low-interest WPCLF loans are expected to save communities in Ohio $569 million in financing costs over 20 years."

Wisconsin,Wausau Daily Herald, 12/22/09:

Stimulus funds teacher training: "Teacher training, salaries and supplies are some of the investments local school districts have made with their stimulus money this year. The D.C. Everest, Merrill, Mosinee and Wausau districts received a combined $6.3 million in federal stimulus funds. The money is part of the $366 million that will be distributed to schools statewide though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Districts chose not to create many new jobs with the money because they feared taxpayers eventually would have to fund them. Instead, the districts used the money to help retain some of their current staff members and provide programs they might not otherwise have been able to offer students. Merrill Area Public Schools, for example, launched an after-school program at Merrill High School to offer students optional help with their studies.The program, called Period 15, will cost $9,000 to pay for a staff of four teachers… Merrill's $1 million stimulus budget also includes soundproofing a classroom, buying three vans to transport special needs students and hiring one special education aide. The Merrill and Wausau districts also will use stimulus money to provide teacher training."