Don’t expect to see windmills or giant solar panels on the top of any Hall County government buildings soon.
And don’t think the Hall County Sheriff’s Office is about to start chasing criminals in the Toyota Prius.
Regardless, the county is earning some national accolades from the U.S. Department of Energy for recent energy-efficiency and environmentally friendly initiatives.
Based on its use of a $762,000 Energy and Efficiency Conservation Block Grant, Hall County government was invited to participate in the Better Buildings Challenge. The national initiative brings together state and local leaders, CEOs and university presidents who have made commitments to energy efficiency.
The county’s approach to energy efficiency has largely been to retrofit its existing buildings with more cost- and environmentally friendly upgrades. Largely, the county focused on replacing old lighting fixtures with newer, more energy-efficient ones and with updating its heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units, said Ken Rearden, director of the county’s Public Works Department.
“We implemented the easiest things that would give us the most bang for our buck,” said Rearden.
That direction has allowed the county to go for the low-hanging fruit rather than investing in some of the more underdeveloped energy-saving equipment.
As part of its invitation to the Better Building Challenge, some Hall County officials are traveling to a summit in Denver with other governments, colleges and businesses to share best practices. That will be on the federal government’s dime, not the county’s. Hall County will join the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta in representing Georgia’s governments.
Jessica L. Robinson, program and grants manager for Hall County, said the innovation Hall County has to share isn’t necessarily use of flashy new technology, but a broader, practical approach for saving energy and money.
“One of the things (the Department of Energy) really liked is a teamwork approach where we divided funds up into different departments,” she said.
Many of the other governments that received the funds put the money toward larger projects.
Hall County looked across the board at retrofitting lights and other small ways to use the funds. The Sewer Services Division got a new water aeration system that turns off when not needed for a treatment plant; the Resource Recovery Division purchased a machine that can recycle fluorescent bulbs; and the county invested in a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system that uses more energy-efficient units and can be centrally controlled.
Despite this accolade, Hall County’s environmental reputation is not without its detractors. Environmental groups have criticized the county’s proposed Glades Reservoir project.
Last fall, the Georgia Water Coalition listed the proposal on its “Dirty Dozen” list of threats to Georgia waterways. Still, members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners say the recent energy-efficiency initiatives are both eco-friendly and beneficial to taxpayers down the road.
“In the future, we’re all going to have to be efficient,” said County Chairman Tom Oliver, both for reasons of financial and environmental stability.
County officials admit, however, there is still more work to be done. Departments are beginning to move into the new county administrative complex, formerly the Liberty Mutual Building, on Browns Bridge Road.
That building still hasn’t gone through the same kind of environmental retrofitting invested on other buildings.
Currently, said Commissioner Ashley Bell, the building is an “energy hog” that will be costly to operate.
The commissioner said he plans to seek a new request for proposal to have an environmental contractor upgrade the building’s environmental features.
Bell said the hope is to partner with a private company to improve the building and seek an outside grant to help fund the upgrade.
“For Hall County specifically, the more money we save through environmental conservation the less likely we’ll have to request more money through taxes or fees,” Bell said.