Dunlap glides toward a sustainable future, energy cost savings

BY ALLE CRAMPTON

TDEC Sustainable Practices

Dunlap, a town of around 5,000 people, is located in scenic Sequatchie County and is well known for both its historic coke ovens and hang-gliding.  Recently, the city entered into a contract with NORESCO, one of the largest U.S. energy services companies, to do some much-needed energy efficiency upgrades.

These upgrades include new LED street lighting for 130 street lights, high-efficiency LED interior and exterior lights at all city buildings, water meter upgrades, and solar arrays on the roofs of city buildings in nine locations. These projects are estimated to cost the city about $2.75 million, which includes the cost of new roofs to support the solar panels. Brian Stone of NORESCO said, “…it only makes sense to replace the aging roof of the city buildings before mounting the solar arrays on them, so they will not have to be disturbed at a later date.”

According to Dunlap’s Mayor Dwain Land, “NORESCO has guaranteed that these upgrades will pay for themselves” over a period of several years. The idea is for Dunlap to borrow the money, use it to finance the construction, and then use energy savings from the improvements to pay back the loan. According to NORESCO's calculations, the two roofs are the only part of the plan the city will have to pay for, about $500,000, out of their own fiscal resources.

The solar panels will be installed at city hall, the fire department, the police department, the city park, a 30,000 square-foot maintenance facility, a water treatment plant, a water lift station, a wastewater treatment plant, and a sewage lift station.

In a working session on Oct. 4, 2016, Stone pointed out to Mayor Land and the city commission that the city is already approved to sell electricity back to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for 25 years, at a locked-in "market value." Stone also pointed out that the income from the energy sold back to TVA would cover the expenses of these energy efficiency upgrades. Mayor Land said, “This is a deal that makes sense both for business and for the environment. It is a win-win situation, as it is good for Dunlap now and in the future. It is also good for the next mayor, and hopefully it starts a culture change here – where we think about the environment more.” Along with these energy efficiency upgrades, Mayor Land also aims to implement a curbside recycling program for about 3,000 homes, which will be free of charge to the residents. This program will be funded by the savings seen from the energy efficiency upgrades.

 Mayor Land and his staff have been very active about going after grants. Since 2010, Dunlap has received over $5.2 million in grant funding. These funds were used for various large projects, including streetscape and greenway projects, a housing rehabilitation in 2013, and a storm water project in 2016. Dunlap also focuses on small-scale changes. The city’s National Guard facility was even awarded a Clean Tennessee Energy Grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s (TDEC) Office of Sustainable Practices for energy efficiency upgrades to the potable water heater.

In July 2014, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) awarded a grant of $591,141 for the second phase of the Coops Creek Greenway project. Mayor Land announced in July 2016  that TDOT again awarded the city grant funds of almost $1 million for more streetscape improvements. Together, these funds will finance the construction of walkways connecting Harris Park to Coops Creek Trail and a walkway crossing Rankin Avenue near Coops Creek Bridge. The plans for the city's greenways and streetscape project will eventually create a path that loops through the city.

Also in 2016, Dunlap received a $500,000 Local Park and Recreation grant from TDEC, which goes toward Phase II of the development of Harris Park. This grant will help fund a new splash pad, restrooms, a family pavilion, and a civic plaza space that could host additional community events like a farmers market. “These developments will help Harris Park continue to be a popular area for residents and others outside the community,” TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said. “We’re grateful to be able to help fund these projects, which will pay dividends for our communities now and in the future.”

It takes hard work and determination to secure grants and other funding, but Dunlap is striving towards sustainability, beatification, and continual improvement. Through all of these efforts, the city is definitely setting some great examples that other towns and cities in Tennessee can look up to.