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Rock Hill works hard at being green

Sunday, the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day, the day the world turns its attention to greening the planet, observers celebrated with music, dramatic performances, seminars and a variety of other special events designed to make people aware of the need to protect the environment. But the effort is meant to last more than one day a year.

The goal of spreading environmental responsibility is supposed to be as sustainable as the methods of achieving it. With that in mind, the city of Rock Hill has implemented several green measures in recent years, hoping to both decrease operational costs and promote a cleaner and greener city. They hope such efforts will inspire city residents to turn “Earth Day” into an every-day mentality.

In 2010, Rock Hill received the Palmetto State Greenest Fleet Award from the Palmetto State Clean Fuels Coalition. The coalition cited the city’s commitment to improving air quality by using different alternative fuels and technologies.

Efforts begin at the City Hall building, with motion-light sensors, energy-efficient lights such as T-8 ballasts and compact fluorescent lamps, automatic dispensers and recycled paper.

Elizabeth Morgan is the city’s environmental educator. She and others started the “Green Team” about two years ago. The team now has a representative from every department in the city.

“Their goal is to think of ways that we, as a city, as a group of employees, can make our workplace more green and make our community a little more sustainable,” she explained.

Because of the team, recycling containers have been placed in city facilities, including the truck sheds. Morgan said that measure alone has made a big difference.

The city also has extended the reach of the green effort to a purchasing policy that encourages employees to buy products that use recycled components, so long as the products with recycled materials don’t cost 5 percent or more than the regular counterpart. This also applies to office supplies.

Alternative fuels

Rock Hill has about 264 vehicles that run on alternative fuels, including biodiesel and compressed natural gas.

City trucks don’t carry diesel fuel anymore, said performance manager Marty Burr.

“We carry B-20, which is a blend of biodiesel and diesel,” he said. “We run B-20 on everything, whether it’s a diesel-powered lawn mower or fire truck, and everything in between.”

B-20 fuel is typically composed of soybean or canola oil, but can also consist of animal fat and used french fry grease.

“It’s the same power and everything else, and there’s no loss of fuel mileage,” Burr said.

Currently, the city has 114 vehicles that run on biodiesel.

They’ve noticed a 90 percent reduction in a vehicles’ black cloud, and although B-20 fuel doesn’t always equal cost savings, he said it does create “environmental savings.”

“To do the right thing, sometimes it costs more,” he said.

They do see “huge savings” with the city’s compressed natural gas vehicles.

Burr said the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline is about $1.36 per gallon for the CNG cars. The city has two CNG cars, but will soon have eight.

The city also has six electric cars and hopes to encourage residents to do the same with the installation more than 10 electric-vehicle charging stations across the city.

Burr thinks that the city’s example is one that could inspire residents.

“I think if they know the city is trying to do the right thing, most people will take the initiative to see what they can do themselves,” he said. “It’s relatively quick and easy.”

LED stoplights

Laddie Parrish runs the city’s substations and traffic lights division. He said former City Manager Carey Smith began a program in 2006 to change out all local conventional traffic signals and street lights with LED – or light emitting diode – lights. The has made considerable progress with the program.

“We’ve been implementing that over a 3- to 5-year program to change them out,” he said. “We’re pretty much all completely LEDs except for a few intersections.”

The LEDs last much longer, he said. For example, an average incandescent bulb would last about 8,000 hours.

The average for the LEDs is at least three or four times that, and they use about a third of the electricity that the incandescent bulbs use.

There are a few drawbacks. Under extremely cold weather conditions, the lights don’t get warm enough to melt the snow or ice that may have accumulated on them.

The LED lights also are more expensive, Parrish said. Incandescent bulbs cost between $150 and $200 in bulk. The LEDs are around 60 percent more, $350 to $400.

“But of course, you have the benefits because we do less maintenance on them,” he said. “We don’t have to send a truck and the people and the fuel to go out there and maintain them. We do see cost savings.”

The LED lights are changed every three to four years as opposed to once-a-year changes on the incandescent light bulbs.

“We’re always looking for things like that to help with the economy and budget the way it is,” Parrish said.

Resident education

But for environmental educator Morgan, the most important green measure the city can take is raising people’s awareness about the environment.

When a person attends the annual Come-See-Me Festival’s tailgate celebration, Moonlight Jazz or other celebrations, at the entrance they’re asked if they want a bag for their trash. At ChristmasVille, an event related to the Elf on the Shelf teaches children about recycled content. City America Recycles Day in the fall encourages residents to recycle.

The city partners with schools, churches and various community organizations to talk about the importance of recycling.

Morgan’s favorite lecture is one called “Green Living,” about everything from using green products in cleaning to what can be reused, such as how fiber can be woven into other products, including blankets.

Another favorite is a third-grade lecture called “Life in a Fish Bowl” that touches on water quality.

Schools regularly call her, Morgan said. The idea of recycling is a really big thing, she added, a task that can seem daunting at first.

But there’s also reason for optimism.

“When we all work together there’s a lot of things we can do that make a difference,” she said.