Wednesday, June 04, 2008

TOP STORY > >Metroplan is turning green

Leader senior writer

The new Jacksonville library will reduce energy use and cost by using the natural heating and cooling properties of the earth itself, according to Mayor Tommy Swaim.

Although Jacksonville, Sher-wood and Cabot have yet to join the ranks of the Metroplan member organizations submitting a list of their environmental efforts for the regional green-activities inventory, at least two have made efforts toward reducing waste, recycling and saving energy costs.

“The board has asked us to start looking at what’s being done and what can be done in terms of environmental practices,” according to Richard Magee, Metroplan director of planning.

“We’re trying to see what everyone is doing,” said Magee, “and what we might do collectively to expand that.”

He said North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, Conway Mayor Tab Townsell and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines had pushed for the survey.

The Jacksonville Library will use the constant 56 degree F temperature of the earth in some 20 wells drilled for that purpose, Swaim said. That means air conditioners will run less in the summer and furnaces less in the winter, saving both energy and money.

“We’re also doing something no other city in the state has done,” Swaim said. “We’ve worked with Waste Management Inc.,” he said, to burn the methane gas vented from the Two Pines landfill to turn six turbines, generating electricity to power a significant number of homes in the North Little Rock area. While North Little Rock residents get the benefit, it was the city of Jacksonville that worked with the state and with Waste Management Inc. during the permitting and construction process.

“We don’t own it, but we encouraged and participated in it,” the mayor said.

The city’s recycling center also accepts old televisions and computers, recycling them and keeping heavy metals and chemicals out of the landfill waste stream, he said.

The city has a curbside recycling program.

The city bundles and sells plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard. “We’ve not yet found a good market for glass and metal cans,” Swaim said.

The city picks up yard waste, grinds it up and gives it back to citizens as mulch, he said.

Jacksonville also has changed over most of its traffic signals from power-intensive lights to the more efficient and economical LED’s according to Jay Whisker, the city administrator.

It has replaced some incandescent light bulbs—including the ones in the mayor’s office—with compact fluorescent bulbs, which although more expensive, last much longer and use a fraction of the power of ordinary incandescent bulbs.

Cabot’s attempts have been less ambitious, according to Mayor Eddie Joe Williams. “We don’t have a new building (to construct in an energy efficient manner)” he said.

“We have a no-idling policy (for vehicles) and each department head has until Friday to submit a list of ways to reduce the consumption of gasoline and creation of exhaust emissions,” he said.

“We don’t buy regular light bulbs,” he said. “We are replacing them with the compact fluorescent bulbs as they burn out.”

Williams said the maintenance guy, who used to replace a lot of 24-hour-a-day light bulbs with great frequency reports that in eight months, no compact fluorescent bulbs have burned out.

He said the city would move its construction equipment around less, leaving it at job sites instead or returning it to the city shop at night.

“We’re watching thermostats.”

“I’d love to see us put some solar (water heaters) on the community center to heat the pool water,” he said. “There’s probably grants available for that and a pretty quick payback.”

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman did not return phone calls by press time.

Among the activities reported by other Metroplan cities and counties were:

Pulaski County—constructed two LEED (Leadership in energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings, purchased hybrid vehicles, worked on the river trail system and allowed some employees to switch to a four-day, 10-hour work week, saving gasoline and emissions on their commute.

Little Rock—printer cartridge recycling, metal recycling, HVAC system upgrades including programmable thermostats, reflective membranes on some roofs, solar panels in some applications, bio-diesel fuel when feasible.

Mayflower—Installed Green energy surge protection and energy reducer at city hall, resulting in 25 percent reduction in electricity consumption.

Vilonia—reduced lighting where practical.

North Little Rock—professional sustainable energy staffing and training, turning off computers and printers each night, raise nightly cooling temperature to at least 80 degrees, bought three hybrid vehicles.

State Highway and Transportation Department—recycling aluminum signs, asphalt and concrete, four-day workweek during daylight savings time.