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Rebuilding Local Economies with Sustainable Infrastructure

The disruptions experienced in recent years have put a spotlight on the vulnerabilities in America’s physical infrastructure and the need for improved climate resiliency including preventative measures to mitigate further climate change risk. In response, the Biden administration's push for decarbonization has focused on the electrification of transportation and buildings, and the transition to clean energy. 

Along with environmental benefits, these decarbonization strategies can also be the foundation for economic recovery and future growth. 

In addition to aligning with new policies, investments in sustainable infrastructure can bring additional federal funds to the table for critical facility upgrades and maintenance. Not only can this improve operational resiliency and reliability of essential public services such as water treatment and emergency preparedness, but it can also help advance other economic development priorities, from creating new revenue streams to building capacity for population growth. 

Energy is a top carbon offender

At its core, decarbonization is a strategy for energy management designed to help meet current and future energy demands with efficient, low-carbon solutions. Energy is a big contributor to carbon footprints and a heavy burden on many municipal budgets. Applying sustainable solutions can result in substantial operational cost savings with the added benefits of modern and resilient infrastructure.

Decarbonization as part of a comprehensive energy management plan can:

  • Save on energy and operational costs. Outdated facilities are hotspots for both energy and budgetary waste. Energy-related emissions account for half of all emissions, and 80% of those could be avoided with sustainable infrastructure. Addressing deferred maintenance with energy efficient solutions can benefit operational budgets and carbon footprints today, while also reducing the cost of other decarbonization measures thanks to smaller loads. 
  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuel. Efficiency improvements are a foundational step. However, increases in energy demand must be met with clean energy alternatives to mitigate additional climate risk. Distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar and energy storage, can meet growing demands and keep critical services operational during power outages. 

Technologies designed for a clean energy future are more accessible than ever. Studies show that solar and wind power can be the most economical options for new electricity supply. In addition, the performance and reliability of renewables is also making them more attractive. In fact, during the pandemic, when energy volatility and supply chain disruption were at a record high, renewable generation outpaced coal. 

Sustainable infrastructure makes Lakeland, Florida, an even greater place to do business

City leaders in Lakeland, Florida, knew they needed to prepare for growth in their community with smart financial stewardship that included improving city services and reducing costs to residents and business owners. The city saw an opportunity to innovate and improve its main wastewater treatment facility. Initially, this aging facility was expensive to operate and was underperforming. By partnering with Schneider Electric, the city was able to turn this challenging situation into an economic driver and a sustainable solution. 

The energy efficiency project reduced the city’s operational expenses and dramatically enhanced the wastewater treatment processes, preparing the city for future growth and making it more attractive to several business industries.

Prior to the project, the wastewater treatment facility was not operating at peak efficiency and required several critical infrastructure upgrades. Schneider Electric engineered a comprehensive solution that combined new technologies and process enhancements—such as a combined heat and power system, a gas collection and conditioning system, and upgrades to the sludge mixing, pumping, and conditioning systems. These improvements will reduce energy consumption by nearly half, enabling the city to optimize its wastewater treatment processes without increasing utility rates or taxes for citizens and businesses. The project will save the city $14 million over 20 years. 

In addition to lower operating costs for the city and stabilizing utility rates for customers, the optimized wastewater treatment facility also created new commercial benefits for local businesses and those looking to relocate to the Central Florida. The optimized system eliminates the need for private industries to purchase and operate their own costly waste pretreatment equipment, which is often required by municipalities. This makes the City of Lakeland more economically attractive to businesses that produce high-strength waste, such as microbreweries, juicing plants, and bakeries. In addition, the city is now poised and ready to easily expand the system to accommodate future capacity needs due to its growing population.

Bridging financial and operational gaps 

Even prior to the pandemic, multiple projects often competed for a limited pool of funding, leaving officials struggling to balance short-term needs against long-term planning. Covid has compounded the issue, driving 66% of counties to cut or delay infrastructure maintenance and another 54% to cut or delay new construction projects, according to a recent NACo report

At the same time, navigating the process of securing and optimizing federal funding can be a significant investment of staff time for an increasingly resource-strapped public sector. Municipalities are also struggling to recruit and retain staff with experience to operate increasingly complex energy systems while balancing an already full plate of day-to-day priorities. 

New public-private partnerships are emerging to help. For example, working with a trusted partner means transferring project management responsibility and performance assurance to a single source responsible for success long-term. That way, your staff can focus on what they do best: keeping your community running smoothly.

Read more on how to make sustainable infrastructure part of your long-term plan in our new eBook, Built to Last: A Sustainable Infrastructure Primer for Local Governments.

This article was originally posted on Route Fifty.