The city of Houston has made significant investments in energy savings.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors named Mayor Annise Parker the winner of Mayors’ Climate Protection Award last year for green building initiatives that incentivize conservation and energy-efficient design features.
“We don’t do it just because we get attention. We do it because it’s been good for the city’s bottom line,” Parker told City Council in introducing Laura Spanjian, whom Parker hired two years ago to fill the director of sustainability position she created.
Spanjian walked Council through a long list of the city’s green initiatives that included:
A bike share program scheduled to expand to 200 bikes at 20 kiosks in downtown, Montrose, the Heights, Texas Medical Center and the Museum District by year’s end.
Four wind turbines to be placed atop the Houston Permitting Center on Washington Avenue.
A plan to retrofit 297 city buildings to reduce energy use by 30 percent. Energy savings are expected to cover the cost of the alterations within a decade.
Near completion of replacement of incandescent bulbs at the city’s 2,450 intersections with traffic signals with LEDs, which are expected to cut energy bills by $3.6 million a year.
A lot of this investment has been paid for with federal stimulus dollars, which is important because the city’s budget, like those of many other cities, can’t often afford the up front cost of such investments. Taking advantage of those funds while they were available was smart and will pay off for years to come.
[CM Oliver] Pennington and others also asked about the most visible of green initiatives – recycling. More than a third of the city’s homes do not have curbside recycling pickup. Of those that do, only half have the 96-gallon containers.
“The challenge is recycling costs more money than picking up trash. Since we’re the only major city in America without a garbage fee, there is no economic incentive. The constraint is entirely budgetary,” Parker said.
I’ve asked about that before as well. Basically, the city generates revenue from the recyclables they collect, and when they have enough of that revenue they buy another truck to do the single stream curbside collection, thus expanding the service. I was going to say that I had not heard of any recent expansion announcements or other news concerning the program, but now I have.
[Solid Waste Management Department Director Harry Hayes] said that if Council would agree to a recycling fee of $3.75 to $4 a month per household, though, by the end of the year he could have a 96-gallon green recycling barrel at every home in the city and the people and trucks in place to pick it up.
That would be “instead of whenever” if he cannot get the fee, he said. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done without charging households directly.
In fact, Hayes said, he plans to bring the big green barrels to 30,000 to 50,000 additional homes in the coming year. He won’t say which neighborhoods are first in line until he makes a formal proposal later this spring. The city picks up garbage at 375,000 homes. Currently 105,000 homes have single-stream recycling — the big green barrels. Another 100,000 homes have dual stream recycling — the small bins. Residents have been clamoring for expansion of recycling.
On Wednesday’s agenda, Hayes is asking Council for $87,500 for a study “to determine the viability and fiscal incentives of establishing an Enterprise Fund for certain Solid Waste Operations…”
An enterprise fund separates an operation from the general fund. That means it is no longer funded by property and sales taxes. But the fund takes in money through fees. Current examples include the city’s airport and water systems, which charge customers, not taxpayers, to fund their operations.
The proposed study would examine whether to create an enterprise fund to cover the city’s three solid waste transfer stations. The stations are drop-off points for the trucks that make curbside collections and the pickup sites for much larger trucks that haul the garbage off to a landfill. The stations save city and company trucks from having to drive clear across the city to a landfill each time they fill up. The city already charges the companies that use the transfer stations.
If the study recommends an enterprise fund and the Council approves one, the city’s Solid Waste Management Department would keep the money the users pay instead of forwarding it to the city’s treasury.
I know a lot of people in neighborhoods that don’t have single stream recycling that would gladly pay the fee to get it, but I wouldn’t claim that’s a representative sample. I suspect the idea would be well received, but we’ll know more after today’s Council meeting. What do you think about the idea?