The cost of Arlington County’s major new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could top $6 million, officials said yesterday, as the county attempts to join a growing number of local governments across the country responding to climate change.
Yesterday, Montgomery County launched an initiative designed to help air quality. Residents for the first time began earning rebates for an unusual energy program under which the county will help defray costs for those who switch to clean power.
On Monday, Arlington officials announced a push they hope will reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2012. Officials gave more specifics yesterday about how much the measure will cost at a time when the county budget is stretched thin.
County officials estimated that, in addition to spending $5 million in the next five years to improve energy efficiency in its public buildings, Arlington will spend more than $400,000 in the coming months to plant 1,200 trees, buy more wind-generated power, hand out more than 2,000 fluorescent light bulbs at fairs and other events and provide free energy audits of more than a dozen homes.
County officials want to give residents who buy hybrid cars a break on their personal property tax – an unusual perk for a Virginia community. Cost estimates on the tax break are not available. The tax break would require approval from the Arlington County Board, but other elements of the plan, such as distributing light bulbs, can go forward without board permission.
County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D) said he was moved to launch the plan after studying environmental theories and seeing former vice president Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“The environmental initiative as an issue of climate change has given me personally a greater sense of urgency to have the locality I represent and hopefully others to reduce emissions,” Ferguson said.
Under Montgomery’s program, Clean Energy Rewards, the county will help defray up to 40 percent of the costs that residents would incur if they asked Pepco and Washington Gas to provide them with renewable energy.
Wind-generated power and other renewable energy often are more expensive than traditional power generated by fossil fuels, which can damage the environment.
Montgomery officials estimated a typical homeowner would spend $15 to $20 more a month on average by switching to renewable energy.
Hank Prensky, a Takoma Park Realtor, said he planned to sign up for the new program after he examined his electric bill and realized that just 2 percent of the energy he used in his five-bedroom rambler came from renewable energy. The rest originated from coal or other sources.
“Even if it costs me more money to assign most of my energy to come from renewable sources, I’m going to spend the money because it’s an investment in the future,” Prensky said.
Increasingly, state and local governments such as Arlington and Montgomery have begun taking steps to reduce emissions, saying the federal government has been slow to act, said Frank O’Donnell, president of the nonprofit group Clean Air Watch.
Montgomery buys about 10 percent of its energy from wind power, and officials hope to increase that number to 20 percent. Arlington officials hope to boost its power from eco-friendly wind farms from 3 to 5 percent of its total energy bill.
Fairfax County officials said they hope to expand their wind power use after having purchased 5.8 million kilowatt hours in the past two years.
In recent days, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission completed plans to use wind power for one-third of its electricity, starting next year. Commission officials said that buying that power at a fixed price will save them $20 million over 10 years.
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
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