Memphis Green Communities Offers Money To Retrofit Commercial Properties 

County program will help commercial property owners make their spaces more eco-friendly.

Two projects to fight greenhouse gas emissions are advancing in Memphis and both want to reform some of the city's major environmental offenders — big buildings.

Friday is the deadline for applications to the Memphis Green Communities program, which would give commercial property owners grants or loans for energy conservation retrofits to their buildings. Also, the Memphis Clean and Green initiative is gearing up to ratchet down energy use at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. 

Cars seem to get much of the blame for greenhouse gas emissions. It's easy for drivers to see the fossil fuel going in the gas tank and the exhaust coming out. A long line of cars is even the main photo on the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website about greenhouse gas emissions. 

But according to the EPA, the production of electricity is the major source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. That electricity is largely generated by burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas. While the number of electric cars on the road is growing, it's still small. So, most of that electricity is going to buildings.

Memphis Green Communities launched a month ago with $14.5 million in federal grants available for the owners of commercial buildings in Memphis. Projects have to cost more than $50,000 to be eligible for assistance.

John Zeanah, administrator of the Office of Sustainability for Memphis and Shelby County, said few applications have been filed for the Memphis Green Communities program, but there has been a lot of interest and questions. Commercial property owners, he said, want to insulate their roofs, replace windows and boilers, and some are interested in solar projects.

"We're really seeking competitive projects that have goals of improving energy efficiency and that have economic impact for the city," Zeanah said.   

In December, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation launched the Memphis Clean and Green initiative. Once fully implemented, the plan is expected to cut $8 million from the city's $40 million annual energy bill. 

The first project aims to reduce energy usage at the Central Library by 29 percent. The 330,000 square-foot building has an average energy bill of about $650,000 each year.

The $21 million project will replace some heating and cooling units and some mechanical systems. Memphis Bioworks President Steve Bares told the Memphis City Council in August that he'd bring the final details of the project and a bond request to the board sometime this fall.

Bioworks will train Memphians to work on the project.

"Clean energy jobs are, of course, something that's moving nationally, and it's a big opportunity for us in the Delta," Bares said. "We need to be able to build that local workforce and improve the urban environment and create a national visibility for Memphis in that 21st-century economy."

The library project is the first of many that will reduce energy use at city-owned buildings. Those projects will likely be funded through federal Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds.

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