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Cabarrus County Committed to Reducing Carbon Footprint

By Kathy Chaffin

Cabarrus officials’ support of the renovation of the Old Creamery at Church and Peachtree is just one example of their commitment to reducing the county’s carbon footprint.

The county will relocate its Board of Elections offices to the renovated building. Kyle Bilafer, director of general services for the county, says construction of the office space is scheduled to begin the first of May. “We’ll get moved in with certificate of occupancy by August,” he says.

The cost is projected at just under $1.2 million.

The offices will feature such environmentally friendly features as FSC certified doors, solar-tube sky lighting, T8 fluorescent lamps and LED track lighting. This will reduce the amount of electricity required for the offices, thus reducing ozone emissions and improving air quality.

The Charlotte metropolitan area, which includes Cabarrus County, was ranked 10th in the nation for ground-level ozone pollution by the American Lung Association.

In addition, the toilet and plumbing facilities will be low-flow, Bilafer says, and the carpet in the building “is a cradle-to-cradle material, which means it’s 100 percent recycled.” Though the county is not pursuing a LEED certification, he says the building will include bike racks and showers for those who ride bikes, requirements of LEED certification.

The Cabarrus Board of Elections offices will be moved from its smaller location on Corban Avenue to the Church Street space to increase size capacity. The Old Creamery building is also located conveniently downtown.

“If we had built a new building outside the city limits,” he says, “it would have been further to travel and obviously would have made more of an impact on our carbon footprint throughout the whole county.”

‘A Truly Sustainable Community’

Cabarrus County Manger John Day says county officials seek to do everything in a more sustainable fashion, whether it’s updating heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems or retrofitting buildings with more energy-efficient lighting or buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. “The board of commissioners are aware of all these things and supportive of them,” he says.

Day says becoming “a truly sustainable community” is one of the goals of Cabarrus County commissioners.

Kevin Grant, hired as the county’s sustainability manager in November 2008, says the results of a 2010 Cabarrus County Community Survey indicate residents are also supportive of sustainability efforts.

When asked, “Do you think it is important for Cabarrus County to support sustainable programs that help reduce pollution, conserve energy and protect water resources?”  90 percent of the respondents said yes. Of the remaining 10 percent, seven percent of the respondents said no, and 3 percent checked the “don’t know” answer.

Grant says the county has energy conservation policies in all county buildings and is in the process of changing out the majority of lighting in the buildings to be more energy efficient. County officials also monitor utility bills and provide graphs to share with department directors to see if they have suggestions on reducing energy usage.

 “We also have labels on most of the light switches to remind county employees to shut their lights off when they leave their area,” he says.

 Response from employees has been positive. “It’s a win-win situation, the fact that we’re saving money on energy and reducing our carbon footprint.”

Though the county’s information technology department has a program in place that shuts computers off when they’re not used for more than two hours, Grant says employees are encouraged to turn off their computers and monitors when they leave their office for an extended period or go home for the day.

The majority of county buildings also have automatic heating and air conditioning systems, he says, which save energy by lowering  temperatures when everyone leaves in the wintertime and raising them in the summer.

The North Carolina Air Quality Forecast has been added to the Cabarrus County website as well as the county employee intranet. An explanation of the color codes and suggested actions that county employees can take to help do their part to improve air quality was also added to the intranet.

Energy Conservation Practices Pay Off

The county’s energy conservation practices have paid off. Electricity usage decreased by an average of 5 percent during fiscal year 2010 compared to fiscal year 2009. This electricity reduction resulted in a CO2 reduction of more than 200 tons.

A “no idling” policy was also recently introduced for general services vehicles.

In addition, over the past three years, the county has added a total of 34 hybrid vehicles to its fleet, the majority of which replaced larger Ford Crown Victorias. The fuel reduction gained by driving Camry Hybrids versus the Crown Victorias was 9,925.5 gallons and an average yearly emission reduction of 96.4 tons of CO2.

Day says the board of commissioners also considers its carbon footprint in future development by encouraging developers to build within cities to discourage long commutes. “There’s a lot of undeveloped land within the cities,” he says.”There’s no reason to spend the money to run utility lines where there’s nothing when there’s already land in the infrastructure to be developed.”

This is also addressed in the county’s land use plan. “It’s a big complicated puzzle,” he says, “but if you’re going to be successful, every piece has to contain an element of sustainability in it.”

***

The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country.

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