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Holyoke applies for $75 million energy grant

Date: 1/19/2010

Jan. 20, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The city's Office of Planning and Development along with the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HG&E) have applied along with Greenindustry Park for a $75 million federal grant that would assist owner's of historic mills to retrofit their buildings to save on energy costs.

Kathleen Anderson, director of Planning and Development, told Reminder Publications the grant might be the largest for which the city has ever applied.

The city will hear next month if it will receive all or part of the request made to the Federal Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Retrofit Ramp-up Program, she said.

The program is funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The grant funding would allow eligible property owners to upgrade and modernize their buildings through zero interest loans payable over a period of five to 20 years. HG&E would administer the loans. Anderson said the city would offer the program at whatever level of funding it receives.

"We really want to try to help businesses anyway we can," she said.

Anderson noted many of the active mill buildings have boarded up windows, suggesting these structures are blighted. They are not, she explained, and the blocked windows are actually an attempt to save energy.

According to grant information, there is approximately 10 million square feet of industrial space and more than 134 industrial and municipal buildings that are in the target area in Holyoke.

If the grant were awarded, there would be a marketing effort to educate building owners about the loan program, followed by assessments of buildings. The loan would be paid back over a period of years through the businesses' HG&E bills.

The program would tie into the proposed Innovation District that is being created around the site of the planned high-speed computing center, Anderson explained.

"This [grant proposal] came at the right time," she added.

Since HG&E is discontinuing its central steam system by September, this program would give priority to those building owners who use the steam for heat. Under the grant program they could purchase and install new state of the art heating systems, Anderson said.

By eliminating the steam service, HG&E is meeting its goal of producing 100 percent of this energy through carbon-free sources.

"This would be an incredible opportunity," she added.