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Stimulus money will help overhaul City Hall

TAMPA — A solar-powered county courthouse. Energy-efficient street lights and air conditioners.

Uncle Sam has opened his wallet, and the Bay area is ready to spend.

The White House announced $23.9 million in stimulus money earmarked for energy efficiency and conservation grants for the Tampa Bay area Thursday.

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

Tampa stands to receive $3.7 million, and St. Petersburg could get $2.4 million.

Thom Snelling, who oversees the Tampa's green initiatives, said he was doing cartwheels in the hallway when he learned Thursday of the appropriation.

"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 50 jobs, according to city documents.

Tampa public works director Irvin Lee said the money could pay for replacing incandescent traffic lights with LED signals that use up to 80 percent less energy.

"We've only got about a quarter of our intersections changed out right now. I'd love to jack that up," Lee said. "LED traffic signal conversion has a relatively quick payback."

Hillsborough County could use the money to install solar panels on top of the old courthouse, now under renovation. County energy manager Randy Klindworth said the project would cost about $2.1 million and be capable of providing about half of the building's electricity.

A portion of the money could also be used to upgrade lighting systems within some of the more than 300 government buildings across the county.

"These are easy projects that could be done quickly," Klindworth said.

Hillsborough County is in talks with operators of the county-owned St. Pete Times Forum about ways to make the venue more energy efficient, county spokeswoman Edith Stewart said

The county's Economic Stimulus Task Force will meet today and the grant may be a topic of conversation.

Mike Connors, St. Petersburg's internal services administrator, called the funding significant. He 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 might spend the money.

"What we're going to do is 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 grants are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than $3.2 billion in the stimulus plan was set aside for energy projects, including $168,643,400 for Florida.

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

Times staff writers Bill Varian and David DeCamp contributed to this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846.

Stimulus fund breakdown

Funding is based on population and energy use.

Tampa$3.7 million
St. Petersburg$2.4 million
Clearwater$1.1 million
Pinellas Park$215,000
Hillsborough County$7.7 million
Pasco County$4.2 million
Pinellas County$3.8 million

Stimulus money will help overhaul City Hall 03/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 27, 2009 12:19am]
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