Energy City comes under budget scrutiny

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Elk River’s “Energy City” initiative appears to be in the budget crosshairs.
The proposed budget for Energy City in 2012 is $56,800. Mayor John Dietz said during a budget work session Monday, July 18 that he’s not sure if he can justify being Energy City and spending that kind of money.
“It’s something I’m going to have to think long and hard about,” he said.
He said he’s never been able to understand Energy City and what it does for Elk River taxpayers.
Elk River Environmental Administrator Rebecca Haug said Energy City has helped residents save money by conserving resources. It has also given residents an opportunity to see energy-related demonstration projects in the city. They include a wind turbine, a power plant at the landfill that turns landfill gas into electricity and several public buildings like the Elk River Library, which have energy-saving features.
“We have a lot of tour groups come through just to see what those demonstrations are, what those new technologies are,” Haug said. She said the city has incorporated a lot of new energy-efficient technologies and saved money as a result.
Education, such as the annual Energy Expo, is also a big component of Energy City, Haug said.
Elk River has been known as Energy City since 1997 when the Minnesota Environmental Initiative chose it from more than 30 other communities to act as a focal point for the demonstration of efficient and renewable energy products, services, and technologies.
Meanwhile, council members Paul Motin and Nick Zerwas also expressed reservations about Energy City in tight budget times.
“With the budget that we’re up against, I’m hard pressed to be supportive of Energy City,” Zerwas said.
Motin said Energy City is a nice program to have and a great education tool, but he’s less convinced it has helped bring energy-related businesses to town.
“I’m not saying we’re going to vote to get rid of it,” Motin added, but said it’s a “hard sell” to actually see where the benefits of Energy City are.
Council members Jerry Gumphrey and Matt Westgaard voiced support for Energy City.
“I think it provides a great service for our residents and our businesses. I think it’s money well spent,” Gumphrey said.
Westgaard responded to the comment by Dietz asking what Energy City does for the taxpayer. “I think you could pretty much make that argument with just about any program we have in the city,” Westgaard said. “…How is flag football (a city recreation program) benefitting the city? How are our senior programs benefitting the city?”
Westgaard said Energy City has helped residents and businesses save money by conserving energy. He said that’s due to Energy City as a whole, not just Project Conserve.
Dietz had earlier said he thinks Project Conserve is great. Project Conserve is a component of Energy City and teaches residents and businesses how to save money by conserving electricity, water and natural gas and producing less garbage.
Dietz said he doesn’t think Elk River has to be Energy City to do Project Conserve.
Of the $56,800 proposed budget for Energy City, $10,000 of that is earmarked for Project Conserve although the city will look for grants to reduce the cost. The city is rolling out Phase III of Project Conserve this fall with opportunities for 500 residents and 25 businesses to participate.

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