Energy policy for Rockford, part 8—Behavioral changes

Nearly all of the transitional steps toward a more efficient, renewable energy system for Rockford focus on technological changes—as opposed to changes in behavior on the part of residents. The heart of behavioral change rests with the public’s acceptance of rampant consumption of goods and services that involve energy use in one form or another. With the enormous investment in advertising, it remains a significant challenge to alter consumption patterns to lessen energy consumption and resource waste while maintaining a strong local economy. “Reduce, reuse and recycle” remains an appropriate slogan and needs to be revitalized within the community.

Reduced consumption needs some fresh ideas. One is the potential of a car-sharing program to provide an alternative to outright ownership. The concept is being tested in Chicago and merits observation. Another possibility is for local citizens who purchase magazines and books to consider making such purchases through their local library and be given the right of first use for a set period of time and then have the publication remain with the library. Publicity could also be given to individuals and organizations who practice voluntary simplicity and green living to inform others there are other satisfying ways to live beyond competitive consumption. Perhaps a “garden for others” program could be initiated to supplement the work of the local food bank. It could include a work component along the lines of the Habitat for Humanity program. A neighborhood gardens program deserves support.

Financial resources

Rebates, grants and advisory services through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the ICECF, and agricultural agencies should continue to be pursued. The funds are competitively awarded and serve as an incentive to move in the direction of energy efficiency, green building, and renewable energy. Forms for submission of requests are straightforward and do not require a great deal of expertise to complete. Other project recipients are often accessible and willing to discuss how their projects have impacted their community. Other funding sources are available and should be considered. While these funding sources are a necessary component of any effort to use energy more efficiently and incorporate renewable energy technologies into the Rockford energy system, they should not be exclusively relied upon.

Some funding can come from shifting funds from existing budgets to efficient, renewable practices. Flexible fueled vehicles are available at no additional costs and should be part of any governmental vehicle replacement program. Normal maintenance and replacement tasks such as changing exit lights to LEDs can be integrated into normal schedules and budgets.

Some new funds should be directed to these programs in the city budget. It may be possible within existing budgets to designate a set sum for these programs, so personnel look for opportunities to meet the goals of the program. Considering the magnitude of savings possible from efficiency, a revolving bond fund should be created to rapidly capture the available energy savings. San Francisco passed a $100 million bond to finance its transition to efficiency and renewable energy.

When contemplating the size of a bond offering, it is important to design the program to pay for itself over time. Such a program is an opportunity for citizens to invest in a government program that returns cash to the community. Other financial incentives, including low-interest loans, accelerated depreciation, tax exemptions, green power sales, and tax credits, could be used to enhance fiscal incentives.

From the July 6-12, 2005, issue

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