F.C. Mulls Federal Grant Pitch to Become ‘Green Laboratory’

City Could Be ‘Cutting Edge’ if Plan Ok’d

A vision of the City of Falls Church as a nationally and globally-significant “green learning laboratory” has energized an initiative that the City Council is being asked to approve on short notice at its meeting next Monday.

City Could Be ‘Cutting Edge’ if Plan Ok’d

A vision of the City of Falls Church as a nationally and globally-significant “green learning laboratory” has energized an initiative that the City Council is being asked to approve on short notice at its meeting next Monday.

The proposal, derived from the deliberations of a local group assembled to figure out how Falls Church might capitalize on federal stimulus funds, suggests that a grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy could bring $15 million or more to the City.

In turn, the City would work with a public-private partnership to launch an array of environmental initiatives, with the ambitious goal of becoming a “net zero” energy consuming entity by 2050.

“Falls Church is less than 12 miles from the White House. We’re the perfect size at 2.2 square miles to operate as a laboratory for all of official Washington to see up close while a number of significant energy-conserving measures are undertaken for study,” Falls Church

developer Bob Young told the City Council at a work session this week.

The main problem expressed by Council members in response to the plan had to do with timing. There’s not a lot of time to get the grant proposal submitted, and this coming Monday is the last time the Council will meet before the July 1 deadline.

“But we’ve had to deal with short time frames before,” noted Vice Mayor Hal Lippman, who led this week’s work session as Mayor Robin Gardner was out of town.

Still, most of the four Council members present said that vetting the plan thoroughly would be a severe challenge by this Monday. Among the concerns are the liabilities associated with accepting federal grant money. Once it is used to set up programs, and the money runs out, the local jurisdiction must assume the costs of maintaining the programs that have been created.

Falls Church found that out with the GEORGE bus system it set up in the late 1990s with the help of a federal grant. Since the City has had to assume the full expense of operating the system in 2004, it has incurred significant costs to maintain it. It was originally intended to be an environmentally-friendly prototype as well, involving an electric engine that eventually failed to pass muster.

With the tough decisions the Council had to make on its budget for the coming fiscal year this spring, including a major scaling back of GEORGE operations, some on the Council expressed concern that this new initiative might wind up burdening City taxpayers down the road.

Still, energy conservation and renewal is clearly the wave of the future, proponents of the plan argued Monday, noting there are good reasons to believe that it will bring new progressive industries and jobs to the City. The plan’s private-public partnership component will also share much of the burden of ensuring its success, Young noted.

In addition to Young, Carol Jackson of the Falls Church Housing Corporation and

Bob Lofton-Thur of the City’s Environmental Services Council were on hand to urge the Council to move forward with the plan. They were among those who attended a community-initiated group on May 6 that brainstormed on options on how to become a leader in green energy efficient communities. Attendees included City Council members, City staff, business leaders, citizen advocates and technical experts.

Out of that meeting came the idea of developing an “unsolicited grant application” to the Department of Energy to tap into the federal “economic stimulus” funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was signed into law in February.

Because the City of Falls Church has a population of less than 35,000, it does not qualify for direct aid under the terms of the act, but can access stimulus funds if it makes an unsolicited grant proposal.

If the Council votes Monday to authorize the submission of the grant proposal by the City Manager’s office, it will approve a plan that, if funded, will expedite work in the following areas:

* Development of a strategic management policy and implementation plan,

* Advancement of a renewable energy portfolio utilizing high energy efficiency photovoltaics, vertical-axis wind turbines and geothermal heating and cooling systems,

* Promotion of “best practices” in energy efficiencies in public facilities with residential and commercial energy audits and retrofit revolving fund financing.

* Zoning code and land use processes that embrace green planning and development,

* Smart meters to facilitate two-way tracking of energy consumption,

* Advanced alternative energy technologies to convert waste water into energy and alternative sources such as hydrogen fuel cells for public and commercial facilities,

* Advanced transportation technologies and infrastructure to enhance public transit and public fleets, and,

* Education, training, replication and sustainability components.