March 16, 2009
Greenhouse Gas Grant Program Explained
How can an agency increase its chances of successfully obtaining funding from two new programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)? Become thoroughly familiar with several parameters of those programs, advised a Federal Transit Administration representative at a March 11 workshop that followed the 2009 APTA Legislative Conference. This portion of the packed workshop generated a significant number of questions.
According to Bruce Robinson, FTA deputy director of research, demonstration, and innovation, the new Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program will allow transit systems to apply for capital funding based on projected savings of either greenhouse gases or projected energy reduction, but not both.
Under TIGGER, transit agencies rather than state DOTs or Metropolitan Planning Organizations would be the ultimate fund recipients. FTA plans to set the range of funds from $2 million to $25 million. Agencies could pool their projects to qualify for the $2 million threshold, though each applicant would still have to explain how its individual project meets program criteria.
In calculating their energy or greenhouse gas savings, systems must include data not listed in Table 17 of the National Transit Database (NTD), which collects only the energy usage of directly operated revenue vehicles. Applicants also will need to include the purchase of energy such as fuels (liquid or gas) and electricity. However, energy generated by the agency itself would be exempt.
For example, Robinson said, for a diesel-powered generator, the applying system would report the diesel fuel as consumed energy but not the electricity produced by that generator. The same is true for solar panels, wind turbines, and any other energy source that consumes no energy.
One important aspect is that the program will tally only energy purchased directly by the transit system and will exclude the energy used by contract service providers—or from power plants or manufacturers servicing the transit system.
Robinson said FTA would consider the question of whether a contractor’s energy consumption would be reportable if the transit system owns the capital used by the contractor. Likewise, one audience member asked if his system—which currently imports compressed natural gas (CNG) from two states away—were to build its own liquefaction and compressing station, would it qualify based on the associated energy savings. Right now, Robinson said, FTA says no. “Part of the reason was to make it easier for agencies to calculate their total usage,” he explained, so transit systems need not reach out to all of their contractors.
FTA will also make a decision as to whether a transit system could use ARRA formula funds to make a capital purchase, such as a hybrid bus, then apply for a TIGGER energy or greenhouse gas grant to pay the additional costs associated with the green technology.
The decision not to allow systems to apply for funding through both programs for purchases that would save both energy and greenhouse gas emissions raised some concern in the audience. Robinson said FTA’s intent is to comply with the wording of the ARRA legislation, which uses the word “or” rather than “and” in mandating that the funds be used to reduce “greenhouse gas emissions or energy consumption.” However, some in the audience countered that allowing application for both programs would simplify the process and be more fair to rural systems, because of the requirement that the energy or gas emissions saved be at least a certain portion of the system’s projected total.
Likewise, the greenhouse gas savings and energy savings programs have different selection criteria. For energy savings, prospective grantees should include the projected total energy reduction of the project alone for life of the investment—in addition to the total energy reduction of the project as a percentage of total energy usage of the transit agency. Robinson recommended the latter be calculated using NTD data in addition to energy used by bus garages, nonrevenue vehicles, stations, and the like. More specific guidance on this will be forthcoming, he said. Once total energy consumption has been calculated, the percentage can be determined.
The criteria for the greenhouse gas emissions program are still in development, he said. But a major difference from the energy savings program will be that the greenhouse gas program requires only the total projected reduction of emissions resulting from the project, but not the percentage of total emissions produced by the entire transit system.
Both programs will also consider as criteria each project’s cost-effectiveness, readiness for action, applicant eligibility, technical capacity, national applicability, and innovativeness.
Robinson said FTA hopes to issue its notice of funding availability, as well as application guidance, for TIGGER by March 19 in the Federal Register and on its web site.