How small town parlays federal grant into high enthusiasm, low energy bills

If anyone ever compiles a national roster of energetic energy-watchers, Richmond, Inc., is sure to rank high on the list. It's not that this small city near the Ohio border has tapped every available alternate energy source or that it has necessarily gone the last mile in conservation.

"Most of our work is still in front of us," insists Mayor clifford Dickman. "We haven't even begun to explore what might be done through local ordinances."

But Richmond, a self-reliant community which even manages to support its own small opera company, does have a citywide energy program. And community interest in saving energy dollars and resources has been extraordinary high by any measure. The result is a variety of energy projects taken on voluntarily by industry and homeowners which several other small cities are eyeing as a model worth following.

Richmond has benefited from being one of 17 cities around the nation chosen to take part in DOE's Comprehensive Community Energy Management Program (CCEMP). In the three years since that day, Richmond's energy department has received a second DOE grant to pinpoint alternative energy sources and recently won a third grant to study the economic feasibility of capturing and selling wasted heat from the cooling towers of the local power plant. (Jim Mays, an energy consultant for the Richmond Power and Light Company, estimates that $6 million a year could be saved in energy costs if just one-third of the available heat could be recaptured.)

"There is a feeling of enthusiasm and universal involvement here that may not be wildly professional, but it's completely committed and energetic," says Ann Cline, director of Richmond's energy program.

Much of the impetus behind Richmond's activity was economic. Local businesses and manufacturers started the search for fresh answers four or five years ago when they were hit with skyrocketing fuel bills and a tightening of natural gas supplies.

Both the energy committee of the local Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters had accordingly pressed Congress for information on where help could be found. When they learned that the US Department of Energy (DOE) was launching a pilot grant project to help communities chart their energy future, a group of interested citizens from Richmond set off in a van to attend an Indianapolis meeting geared t professional energy planners.

Ann Cline, an architect married to a history professor at Richmond's Earlham College, was in the group. She was one of the few not put off by the special jargon of Washington bureaucrats spoken at th e meeting. With considerable support from all sides, she sat down later and filled in the grant application.

"There's a certain benefit of innocence," she recalls. "You just plow ahead."

From the beginning Mrs. Cline, who enjoys the strong support of the mayor for her efforts on the city's behalf, viewed the local energy department's primary role as that of a broker, bringing information and convincing case studies to those in need. As a start, an audit of local energy resources and of key areas of energy waste was made.

Because business and industry were in the deepest trouble, a series of 10 technology seminars was launched to let them know what was available and how well it worked. Several companies put the advice to immediate use. For instance, the Dana Corporation, which produces cylinder linings for diesel engines, promptly installed an electronic device to more evenly distribute use of electricity over all hours of the day. According to project engineer Tom Stiens, the addition saves Dana an estimated $50,000 a year.

Richmond homeowners have also been in on the action. Their attendance has been strong at monthly solar information meetings over the last two years. And individuals have tried everything from using heat pumps -- which tap groundwater as a source of hot and cool air -- to adding more insulation to roofs and walls. Even Mayor Dickman has become involved to the point of developing a flexible plastic inner strom window. Richmond residents are trying to persuade him to explain and demonstrate it at the next community energy meeting.

Richmond's most dramatic and visible energy action to date, however, is the construction by a developer of two passive solar homes on an alley facing a public park in the central part of the city. Both rely for heat on solar energy stored in fiber-glass tubes of water. One house has been sold, and an out-of- town buyer is interested in the other.

Richmond, like most Midwestern cities, has more than its share of alleys which were once used for stabling the horses. The project began as a way of making more energy-efficient use of land. Since the sewer and electric lines are already in place and most alleys are well situated for a southern solar exposure, alley development is viewed as a potentially strong energy saver.

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