By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

The city of Sandy Springs is eligible for an $851,900 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make the community more energy-efficient.

The money is part of a $3.2 billion grant program funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

With applications due June 25, the City Council discussed the grant plan at a May 5 work session. The federal money has been allocated for the city, and the grant will be approved as long as the city’s application shows a strategy to use the money for eligible activities.

After officially being granted the money, the city will have 18 months to commit all the funds and 36 months to spend them.

City staff suggested three projects. Two were well-received: the installation of solar panels on city buildings and the conversion of traffic and pedestrian signals to light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

“Those will save us money for many, many years,” Dist. 5 City Councilman Tibby DeJulio said.

If used at fire stations, park facilities or future buildings like a new City Hall, solar panels could eliminate electricity costs associated with heating and cooling systems and water heating. The city spends around $20,000 per month for those utilities.

The energy alternative also could provide exterior lighting, backup battery lighting for emergencies and ambient lighting for facilities.

“We like the solar panels,” Mayor Eva Galambos said. “We love the traffic signals.”

The LED switch could reduce energy costs associated with signal operation by 90 percent to 95 percent. Around 80 signals could be upgraded for $250,000. Implementation would take only a few months, but the cost savings would last years.

The third recommendation, to implement additional recycling programs, met opposition.

City staff proposed using grant money to bolster the Keep North Fulton Beautiful recycling center on Morgan Falls Road. The center operates at a deficit of $100,000 a year and relies on donations and volunteer workers.

Additional funds were suggested to purchase a mobile recycling center for special events and high-traffic areas; to increase satellite collection bins at apartments and business centers; and to expand community outreach at schools and commercial centers.

“That to me is awfully loose,” Galambos said. “I’m afraid you are going to end up paying salaries” for the recycling center staff.

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul had reservations because he said it would be hard to measure environmental advantages.

“You’ve got to demonstrate energy savings,” he said, warning there could be audit issues if Department of Energy criteria are not met.

DeJulio noted that the market for recyclables is at a low point, and Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny suggested allocating dollars only for additional off-site paper bins.

The staff will present the final version of the application for the council’s approval in June.

For more information on the grant, visit www.eecbg.energy.gov/GrantAlloc.html.