OKs Pitch for $25 Million of Fed Stimulus
Something seemed finally to click late Monday night, causing the Falls Church City Council to go within a matter of minutes from a 3-3 deadlock to a 6-0 unanimous decision to approve making an ambitious bid for $25 million in federal stimulus funds before the July 1 filing deadline.
The extraordinary proposal calls for the City of Falls Church to become a veritable “green learning laboratory,” capitalizing on its small size and proximity to the District to be an incubator for an array of cutting-edge “green” technologies that will have the collateral benefit of enabling City residents and businesses to lower their energy costs to the tune of an aggregate $9.5 million a year.
For the U.S. Department of Energy, which would deal out the money to the City if the bid is approved, it would provide a way to vet new environmentally-friendly, energy alternative and conservation-oriented technologies and techniques in a controlled environment. The lessons learned would have national and even global applications, and the City would have the goal of becoming a “net zero” consumer of energy by 2050.
It would put Falls Church “on the map,” to become nationally renowned, proponents noted. Insiders also indicated that the City stands a very good chance of winning the money, especially as the bid is being prepared by Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, who has been carefully following the process of federal fund dispersal from passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act since U.S. Rep. Jim Moran convened a special briefing for Northern Virginia officials in late January.
With its proximity to the capital, manageable scale, widespread community support, local political leadership and community-based technical expertise and resources, the City would be in an “optimal position to become a living demonstration of a sustainable community,” City resident Bob Lofton-Thun told the Council Monday. The plan “would create a City-wide platform for U.S.-based clean energy technology companies and commercially viable products to be demonstrated and results measured, monitored and evaluated for financial and environmental effectiveness.”
The City would become an “energy-smart district” that would include, among a dizzying number of initiatives, “Smart Meters” installed for free in every home, allowing residents to more carefully monitor and modulate their energy use to optimize conservation and save money. Overall, the plan could reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, saving 90 million kWh annually, and water consumption by five to 10 percent. There would be a reduction of 70,000 tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to having 11,500 cars removed from the roadways.
“This is a very bold move that will transform the City,” Loftun-Thun said, that will have the positive effect of “mitigating the risk of rising water and energy costs.”
Confronted with the July 1 deadline, the Council moved with unusual dispatch from being first introduced to the idea only last week, to giving it an official nod late Monday night. This is despite the fact that $25 million is nothing to sneeze at in Falls Church, where the entire annual budget is only $70 million.
The plan was in the development stages following the passage of the federal stimulus package in January, and leapt forward at a May 6 meeting at the Flower Building in Falls Church that included a cadre of local leaders who brainstormed on ways to put the comprehensive proposal together.
Councilman Nader Baroukh was among those on the Council at Monday’s meeting who said he’d never caught wind of the plan before the work session of the previous week on June 15. “I am pretty well plugged into what’s going on in this community, but this caught me off guard,” he said.
Nonetheless, he and all others on the Council wound up approving it late Monday. But that was not before, moments earlier, Council members Baroukh, Lawrence Webb and David Snyder voted to postpone the vote. With Mayor Robin Gardner absent, the 3-3 vote to postpone failed and then Councilman Dan Maller proposed adding language to the resolution affirming the Council would have an on-going role in shaping the plan over the coming period, were it to get the federal OK.
Webb turned that into an official amendment to the motion, and it was then swiftly approved unanimously.
Maller’s enthusiasm for the plan was crucial, offsetting the concerns by Acting Mayor Hal Lippman and others. While Lippman said initially it was “too much to get my intellect around in such a short time,” and that he was “terribly uncomfortable with the deadline pressure,” Maller said, “This can help define us as a City. I support it more than wholeheartedly. It is an audacious move in its contents and scope and I think it’s a good idea.”
Maller added, “Falls Church is the perfect lab. In this case, even failure would be success as it would help to identify things that both do and don’t work.”
The plan grew in scope in the week since it first came to the Council in the work session, from $15 million to $25 million, involving four full-time-equivalent posts for three years that will need to be created in the City government, and five full-time-equivalent posts under the umbrella of the private-public partnership “Energy Alliance” that would be created to implement the plan.