ATHENS — Taking steps to improve the local environment could do more than help Mother Nature — it could net the village cold, hard cash.
The Athens Village Board is exploring a state program that rewards communities for making improvements that positively impact the environment. The village also took part in a similar program a couple of years ago.
“Two years ago the village became a Clean Energy Community by accomplishing a number of high-impact actions,” Village Trustee Joshua Lipsman said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “As a result, we ended up being eligible for a $30,000 grant, which we were able to use to do some underground infrastructure repairs.”
The first round of the program expired, but now the state has moved on to the second level of grants.
The Athens Conservation Advisory Council, which Lipsman heads, is working with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission to see what the village could achieve through the Clean Energy Community Program.
“We’ve come up with a series of actions that we think might make sense for the village to attempt,” Lipsman said. “And if we attempt them and are successful, doing the math it looks like we could get up to $40,000.”
Funds awarded through the grant program are earmarked for specific uses, such as purchasing electric vehicles or making energy efficiency changes to village properties, Lipsman said.
Tara Donadio, from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, presented the village with an overview of the grant program and the second round of awards, dubbed the Leadership Round.
“There are two types of grants,” Donadio said. “There are points-based grants where you add up these different numbers and get the grant, and there are action grants where you do one of these things and you get money.”
Basic designation grants, which require the community to do four actions — similar to the first round of grants — award $5,000.
But there are other opportunities to earn additional money.
“Every action is attached to a number of points. The more difficult the action is, the higher the point level,” Donadio said. “You want to shoot for some higher-point ones, but you also want to check off the ones that you have already done.”
Most actions the village took in the previous grant round would also count this time around, she said.
The village is beginning the process with 1,000 points because the community switched to LED street lights during the previous round, she said.
“That is a lot more than other communities that I know have,” she said.
There are a variety of ways the village can earn points in the program. If the village’s code enforcement officer attends energy efficiency training, the community would earn 200 points. Five hundred points are awarded for making clean-energy upgrades that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, and up to 1,000 points can be earned for purchasing electric vehicles for the village’s fleet or for moving to 100% renewable electricity, among others, Donadio said.
Some actions that earn points are already in the works. The village is looking at purchasing electric-vehicle charging stations, Mayor Amy Serrago said. That would net the village between 100 and 1,000 points.
There are three levels of awards for the points-based grants.
For a community the size of Athens, earning 3,000 points results in a $10,000 grant. There are 40 such grants available in each region.
At the second level, the village could earn $20,000 for earning 4,000 points.
The third and highest level would award $70,000 for 5,000 points, but there are only four such awards in the region so those are difficult to attain.
A community can also earn an action grant of up to $20,000 for running community campaigns to get local residents signing up with green companies.
For instance, the village could work with a car dealership and earn points for every electric vehicle purchased by a village resident, or work with a community solar company and get at least 10 resident sign-ups to have solar panels installed at their home for a $5,000 grant, Donadio said.
“Ten signups with community solar is relatively easy,” she said.
There are 100 grants statewide for community campaigns.
The village board will continue looking at the program and how to maximize the points the community can earn to win the grants.