County to go green with grant
Initiative's funds originally cut to help balance budget

LAWRENCEVILLE - When commissioners cut $1 million for a county green initiative as part of an effort to balance the budget, many thought the environment would be put on the back burner.

But a $7.3 million stimulus grant is allowing officials to do even more for the environment than they originally planned.

While no county staff are officially designated to the role, engineering manager Dennis Baxter is trying to get county employees thinking green - from reusing office supplies and furniture instead of throwing them away to building environmentally friendly buildings.

"With the stimulus package going through, it allowed us to pull up the slack," he said. "A lot of it is getting people to change the way they act, so there isn't cost associated."

The initiative includes a goal to reduce the county's energy consumption by 10 percent by 2012, which could save up to $1 million each year. With the most recent drought, the county has already saved 15 million gallons a year in water initiatives, but officials hope to reduce consumption by 15 million more gallons.

"We're thinking in a different manner than we did in the past," Baxter said.

The Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center is the only Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified county facility, but six other buildings have certification in the works.

The grant, Baxter said, will allow the county to move forward with energy audits and retrofitting equipment such as faucets and toilets, as well as converting traffic signals to the more energy efficient but more expensive LED lights.

It will also further a program to convert methane gas, a byproduct at the county sewage plant, to energy.

With an application under review that predicts 75 jobs will be created or retained by the projects, Baxter said he hopes to have the first funding check in September.