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Federal stimulus money to pay for Tampa Bay energy projects

ST. PETERSBURG — A solar-powered City Hall. Energy-efficient street lights. Electric cars.

Uncle Sam has opened his wallet, and Tampa Bay area governments are ready to spend.

The White House announced $23.9 million in stimulus dollars earmarked for energy efficiency and conservation grants for the region Thursday.

Hillsborough County was promised the largest chunk of cash, followed by Pasco and Pinellas.

St. Petersburg could get $2.3 million, Tampa stands to receive $3.7 million and Clearwater just over $1 million.

"That is significant," said Mike Connors, St. Petersburg's internal services administrator, who quickly rattled off a list of potential projects, including new street lights and solar panels for government buildings.

Other governments have yet to determine how they will spend the money.

"We're going to look at the projects that might be eligible … using federal criteria," said Elithia Stanfield, assistant Pinellas County administrator. "Then we will apply to use the money."

The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act set aside more than $3.2 billion for energy projects, including more than $168 million for Florida.

To receive the money, governments must request grants for projects that improve energy efficiency and reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions.

The list of eligible projects ranges from renewable energy installations on government buildings to energy-efficient traffic signals and street lights to green vehicles.

Grant recipients must report the number of jobs created or retained, energy saved, renewable energy capacity installed, greenhouse gas emissions reduced and funds leveraged.

"These investments will save taxpayer dollars and create jobs in communities around the country," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. "Local leaders will have the flexibility in how they put these resources to work — but we will hold them accountable for making the investments quickly and wisely to spur the local economy and cut energy use."

In Tampa, Thom Snelling, who oversees the city's green initiatives, said he was doing cartwheels in the hallway when he learned of the stimulus program.

"I'm thrilled to death," he said. "We have a heck of a wish list and quite a bit of it has to do with energy savings."

Many of those projects would go unfunded without the stimulus money, Snelling said. Among them: Replacement of 30-year-old heating and cooling systems at police headquarters and City Hall. Both projects could begin this summer and would create a total of 50 jobs, according to city documents.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg officials discussed whether to apply for grants from several other pots of stimulus money during a City Council meeting Thursday.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said he will seek federal dollars to hire 10 officers.

Harmon said he will apply for $2.1 million through a Justice Department grant. The deadline is April 14.

The grant requires the city to retain its new hires for at least one year beyond the conclusion of the three-year grant period. That will cost $710,000. City officials said they will likely set aside some money in each annual budget preceding the fourth year to comply with the grant, even if the economy does not rebound.

Mayor Rick Baker's staff said the city also will seek stimulus dollars to help cover community development projects, social services expenses and restore native plants to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Maximo Park and other public lands.

St. Petersburg launched a recovery Web site last week to track all the available funds the city may apply for, and ultimately, how the money is spent.

Fast facts

Stimulus funds

The Tampa Bay area received $23.9-million for energy efficiency and conservation projects. Funding is based on population and energy use.

Here's how it breaks down:

Clearwater: $1,075,400

Dunedin: $149,500

Largo: $719,200

Pinellas Park: $215,000

St. Petersburg: $2,380,400

Tampa: $3,712,100

Hillsborough County: $7,665,200

Pasco County: $4,216,900

Pinellas County: $3,791,300

Federal stimulus money to pay for Tampa Bay energy projects 03/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 27, 2009 12:10am]

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