Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday April 25th 2018

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Escambia County Leads IN Green Initiatives

By Dustin Toney

Cutler Bay offers incentives to encourage environmentally friendly building practices within the town and utilizes timers and energy efficient lighting on its sports fields. By the beginning of 2008, Dunedin converted 23 traffic signal lights to LED—the city saves $23,000 annually on average.

Tarpon Springs has written an ordinance to promote water and energy conservation in landscaping. The town optimizes shading and protects growth of local plants. Tarpon Springs Police Department only fires lead-free bullets at its range.

The officers pick up and recycle casings and bullet residue.

These Florida towns have all received silver certification by the Florida Green Building Coalition’s Green Local Government Designation program. FGBC follows an outline that examines governments’ performance in a number of fields, including energy, water, air, land and waste. An example of a “gold” city would be Tallahassee, who educates staff and elected officials about methods of energy efficiency and offers green power, renewable energy credits and incentives to distribute power.

Where does Pensacola fall in the rankings? It doesn’t qualify for certification from the FGBC. Unlike Orlando, Sarasota, Tamarac, Deland, Jacksonville and so many other Florida cities that received recognition, Pensacola does not have a long-term environmental plan. There is no one person who oversees the development of sustainable practices and policies.

“It’s not like we have to reinvent anything,” City Councilwoman Sherri Myers told the IN. “Model programs are already out there.”

Despite the wide array of available information, Pensacola has not utilized any of it. Myers continued, “There is tons of information out there, there are all of these models out there, but we don’t have anybody at the city level to implement them. We got rid of our environmental coordinator.”

Myers claims the city spends millions of dollars on golf courses and tennis courts. She asks why the city isn’t putting any money towards reforestation and improving the quality of products the city uses to improve human health. She would like to see the city strive for the FGBC’s gold certification and focus on issues that many cities in Florida have been addressing.

Escambia County, however, has been focusing on improving its building standards and its consumption of energy. Last November, the county completed its Central Office Complex, which has 79,000 square feet of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold-certified construction.

The buildings are covered by one of Florida’s largest green roof systems. The complex even has bicycle racks to allow residents and employees to ride their bikes to and from work. Thirty-four percent of the building materials were purchased from local and neighboring vendors. Ninety-five percent of construction waste was recycled. This is just to name a few of many environmental considerations taken into account during the construction of the office complex.

“Also last year, we did the ribbon-cutting for the landfill-gas-to-energy project in Perdido,” said Keith Wilkins, Escambia County’s deputy chief of neighborhood and community services. “We are capturing the methane gas that the landfill produces. In a partnership with Gulf Power, we generate electricity by burning that gas.”

By feeding that energy back into the grid, the county saves between $800,000 to $1.2 million a year. A fourth generator is expected to be added to the plant, which will save roughly another $300,000 annually. In addition, Wilkins told the IN that the county is currently looking into old landfills for solar panel fields. If so, it would generate more electricity than the county would need for its public purposes, and the electrical excess would then be added back to the grid.

“A lot of these projects cost more upfront but save money down the road,” Wilkins told the IN. “Getting the money upfront for improvement-type projects is difficult. Money is scarce, and the payoff is several years down the road. We received a $1.5 million grant from BP for the office complex.”

“Four years ago we started a project to replace all of our old, inefficient heating and air conditioning equipment,” said Pensacola State College (PSC) Physical Plant Director Walt Winter. “It was around $6 million and took us four years, but by doing this we are now seeing savings of 20 percent on our utilities.” That’s roughly $600,000 a year.

In addition, the new PSC building to be built in Midway surpasses the state’s standards in environmentally-friendly requirements and will be LEED silver-certified.

“The janitorial service that we use only uses healthier products rather than the harsh chemicals. We recycle all of our used oil from the vehicles. We recycle light bulbs,” explained Winter. “Four years ago, PSC didn’t recycle, but now the company we use will recycle almost anything except garbage and Styrofoam. Everything else can be put into one container.”

According to Winter, the biggest hold back for more upgrades is money, but he states that there are many ways to reduce energy on a personal level. Although a lot of the lighting on campus is now timed, there are still many ways employees and students can reduce energy costs.

“If people will turn their computer monitors and lights off during lunch, they will save tremendously,” said Winter. “The big challenge is getting everyone on the bandwagon.”