A new plan unveiled by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton last week aims to cut energy usage in city-owned buildings by 20 percent, all the while creating jobs and training discouraged locals for those jobs.
The mayor's Memphis Clean and Green initiative will include retrofitting many of the 600 city-owned buildings to run more efficiently, installing solar panels on about 30 of them, converting some city vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, and recycling more trash. The plan is expected to cut $8 million from the city's $40 million annual energy bill, Wharton said.
The city partnered with the Building Technologies division of Siemens Industry Inc., which will manage and oversee the performance of the project. The city also partnered with Memphis Bioworks Foundation to train those who will work in the program.
Bioworks has trained dozens in Memphis for all sorts of environmental work, from weatherizing housing to driving forklifts. The organization installed a solar array on the parking garage attached to its Dunlap headquarters last year, a project that trained 15 new workers and placed 29 workers in jobs overall.
"We've worked to make sure we can meld and mold the Memphis workforce to this 21st century economy," said Steve Bares, president of Memphis Bioworks Foundation. "We've taken that experience and brought it to [Clean and Green]."
Clean and Green will get started with $200,000 in seed money from the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE). But it will be funded in the future by the annual savings produced from cutting back energy usage. No money, Wharton said, will come from the city's general fund. He said each dollar spent on the program will serve many purposes in the community.
"A dollar that retrofits a building or installs a [solar] panel also rehabilitates someone who's had a hard time finding a job," Wharton said. "It also cleans up our communities and gets tax dollars flowing back in."
The project will start with the city's toughest customer : Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library uses more energy in a year than any other municipal building, according to Bioworks and the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability. The 330,000-square-foot building has an average energy bill of about $650,000 each year.
Once the library project is complete, Clean and Green workers will upgrade the heating, cooling, lighting, and electrical systems in other municipal facilities including community centers, libraries, police and fire departments, and City Hall.
Peter Torrellas, chief technology officer of Siemens Infrastructure and Cities, said last week that Wharton's "vision for prosperity is groundbreaking" and said he hoped that Clean and Green can become a global model for similar efforts.
Wharton said planning the program has taken about two years. It is the first phase of his overall Blueprint for Prosperity plan he promised to roll out early next year. He said "antipoverty" programs are outdated and that "the best antipoverty program is a jobs program."
"[The Clean and Green program] is just an appetizer of how we're going to put folks to work in the city of Memphis," Wharton said. "We're going to lead the way in closing the income gap that the pope and the president have spoken about."