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Earth Sense: Oakwood makes effort to save energy
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A truck stands idling in front of the café, spewing diesel fumes, while its driver is having lunch inside. That scene from John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” won’t be playing out with city-owned vehicles in Oakwood. This Hall County community has been making intense efforts toward resource conservation.

“Our idle reduction policy is one example where we found we can save significant fuel dollars, while at the same time improving air quality,” City Manager Stan Brown said. “Unless it’s an emergency, city utility and police vehicles have their engines turned off when idle time goes over two minutes.”

Based on a study done last year by Georgia Tech students, and a detailed energy audit by a local expert, Oakwood found more ways to eliminate idle waste. After 10 p.m., the parking lots go dark.

“It makes no sense to illuminate empty lots,” Brown said. “The same is true for empty rooms. So we first implemented energy-saving measures that reduced our power bill by an astonishing 40 percent. Then we used those savings to purchase motion-detector switches, which turn the lights off when nobody is in the room. Fine-tuning the thermostats is another measure which eliminated energy waste in city offices, based on time of day and building occupancy.”

Having served in the U.S. military in Iraq, Brown was able to combine environmental and organizational experience for the benefit of Oakwood. Project Paperless was one of the earliest successes.

“Instead of shuffling piles of paper on the table, we project documents on the wall screen,” Brown said.

The 20th century way of photocopying absolutely everything “just in case” has disappeared from city offices, and so has an expensive copy machine. One reason why energy cost saving measures come about so quickly is Oakwood’s smaller size, compared to other North Georgia cities. Long-term residents notice that roadside trash has diminished since the introduction of roll carts.

“We can quickly implement plans that make sense,” Brown said. “If it can serve as an example for other communities, then everybody benefits from a cleaner environment, and of course the savings in tax dollars.”

Given those recent successes, we might expect that big innovations, like solar energy for public buildings, are also in Oakwood’s future.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at

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