Sandy Spring’s Energy and Sustainability Challenges and Accomplishments

Posted on November 5th, 2012 by
   

Incorporated in December 2005, Sandy Springs is one of the State of Georgia’s newest cities. Efforts to incorporate the City began in 1966 in response to an attempt to annex the land that is now Sandy Springs into the City of Atlanta. Residents in Sandy Springs relied upon a large, unwieldy county government for the provision of services, which were often non-existent. Sandy Springs continued to operate as an unincorporated area of Fulton County until June 2005, when an overwhelming 94% of residents voted for incorporation.

With freedom to operate as an independent city, Sandy Springs chose to blaze its own trail in government structure and function.  Rather than hire hundreds of government employees, the City utilizes a highly acclaimed public-private partnership model, using private sector partnerships to handle traditional city services including Public Works, Community Development, IT, Communications, Finance and Recreation and Parks.  The City is realizing a higher quality of services while at the same time, experiencing increased efficiencies and savings.

Faced with an aging infrastructure, we have placed a high priority on improving roads, sidewalks and other capital projects. For example, the City continues to allocate funds for stormwater improvements.  Water quality is a critical necessity. Since incorporation, the City has identified and certified 790 projects as a priority for the City to fix. Of this number, the City has completed 697 projects with a hope that soon, we will be funding system improvements that will reduce future repairs rather than cleaning up from the past. The City Council has allocated $2.5 million in the FY13 budget to help us reach this goal.

From water to air quality:

Funded in part through a grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, the City of Sandy Springs Police Department is in the process of converting 40 of the department’s 100 patrol cars to propane autogas.  The conversion is part of the department’s participation in the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program.  The Program is comprised of public and private partnerships throughout 10 southeastern states, Denver and Pittsburgh.  Autogas vehicles burn fuel more efficiently and at a higher octane, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.   Officers using the propane-fueled vehicles report that they find the cars run better and have more ‘pep’ than traditionally-fueled vehicles.  In terms of savings, our police chief reports that our cost to fuel these cars is about half when compared with traditional gas; oil changes are needed at the 5,000 miles mark rather than 3,000; and with new synthetic oils coming into the market, we expect to extend the savings even further.  Based on current success, the City Council recently approved additional funding with a goal to soon see all of the city’s patrol cars operating on propane fuel.

As part of an overall Resource Efficiency Program, we have conducted energy audits throughout the City. In the area of light management, we are being proactive in finding ways to reduce costs and energy consumption. The annual unit cost of electricity has increased 30% over the past five years.  The components of energy usage, facilities and street lights are expected to continue to grow over time.  Currently 70% of the City’s overall energy usage is attributed to the more than 5,000 outdoor lights illuminating our city.

Earlier this year, the City piloted a lighting project to determine if utilizing Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) provided a strong enough case to convert streetlight fixtures in the City. Our Public Works department looked at leasing and purchasing options for fixtures, cost of maintenance, as well as usage charges.  The street outside the Public Library was selected as a testing site, and over a five-month testing period, the City realized a 36% savings in operational costs over conventional lighting fixtures. The City is now utilizing an Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant to retrofit approximately 135 lights throughout the City with LED fixtures. We anticipate a savings of at least $13,000 a year, and plan to move most, if not all street lights in the City to LED.  In addition, we are in the process of revising our standards and specifications for outdoor lighting, so that future installs maintain our sustainable direction.

As a relatively young city, Sandy Springs is at the forefront of sustainable initiatives.  On one end of the spectrum, we are looking to correct or mitigate past activities.  In other areas, we have the opportunity to build sustainability into the plans. That is the case with our downtown area. We are currently in the process of developing a master plan for our downtown area.  The planning process has opened the door on thoughtful discussion on sustainable approaches from walkable streetscapes to greenspace, building codes and best practices for recycling water. Like our drive to become a city, we know the road to success will take commitment, concentrated effort and a touch of stamina.

Written by Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos

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