Lt. Governor congratulates Champaign on energy grant

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn holds up a copy of the Energy Task Force report recommending energy policies for Illinois in front of The Great Impasta in Champaign on Thursday. Dan McDonald

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn holds up a copy of the Energy Task Force report recommending energy policies for Illinois in front of The Great Impasta in Champaign on Thursday. Dan McDonald

By Jessica Schuh

Business owners in downtown Champaign have a new incentive to update their buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn spoke about the “Energize Champaign” program Thursday afternoon at a press conference in front of The Great Impasta, 114 W. Church St., in downtown Champaign. The program is distributing $51,250 in grants to businesses and buildings in downtown Champaign who make improvements that increase energy efficiency.

He also announced an energy-efficient lighting grant Champaign recently received that will pay up to $3,000, or 80 percent, of the cost of installing new lighting systems in downtown buildings.

Quinn complimented the program and stressed the importance of increasing energy efficiency throughout the state.

“(The Energize Champaign program) really is a model for the rest of Illinois,” Quinn said.

Quinn is chairman of “The Special Task Force on the Condition and Future of the Illinois Energy Infrastructure.” Gov. Rod Blagojevich created the task force in August 2003 after the blackout in eight states that left millions of people without power.

“We were lucky we didn’t have the blackout here … and we want to prevent it from happening,” Quinn said.

The task force was created to prevent power outages in Illinois and research ways to decrease electricity demand, increase energy efficiency and encourage development of renewable energy sources, according to its Web site. It released a report in June of this year that gave 32 recommendations, including more investment in energy-efficiency programs.

Quinn said the grants will essentially pay for themselves because the money saved on energy costs will be invested back into the community.

Carol Timms, President of Educational Dividends for the Champaign Downtown Association, said economists say that for every dollar saved on energy costs, two dollars will enter the local or national economy. If business owners save money on energy costs, they will be more likely to invest money in their business and buy more goods on a local and national level, she said.

Champaign Mayor Gerry Schweighart and State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) spoke at the announcement along with others from the city and state who are part of the Energize Champaign program.

Todd Lee, opportunity coordinator for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunities, said many towns in Eastern Illinois ask for ways to revitalize their downtowns.

“This program is a good example of what can be done,” Lee said.

Harold Allston, owner of The Great Impasta restaurant, said he has made improvements to the building with the help of the grant money, making it more energy efficient.

“(Before making improvements), I got to know every air condition repair man in town, and now I’ve forgotten their numbers,” Allston said.

Timms said most buildings in downtown Champaign are not as energy efficient as they could be, but noted that it is not the owners’ fault. Technology has advanced rapidly in the past few years, allowing for more efficient energy use, she said.

“It’s just time for an upgrade,” Timms said.

Simply switching from incandescent light bulbs to small fluorescent light bulbs conserves energy by 75 percent, Timms explained.

“We want to see downtown continue to grow the way it is growing,” Timms said.

Timms said the organization is searching for University students to help look at downtown buildings and explore ways to increase their energy efficiency.

“There are a lot of things that can still be done,” she said.

Quinn ended the event by emphasizing the importance of finding new energy sources and decreasing dependence on energy sources outside the United States.

“Let’s make the middle-west of our country the energy resource for the nation,” Quinn said.

The report by the Special Task Force on the Condition and Future of the Illinois Energy Structure is available at www.blackoutsolutions.org.

Downtown business or building owners can get applications for both the energy efficient lighting projects and the energy efficient capital improvements by going to the Champaign Downtown Association office, 302 West Hill St. Suite 202, or by visiting their Web site at www.downtownchampaign.org.