The rooftops of Chattanooga could be taking on a new look in 2010 and the coming decade. Some will be green. Some will glitter with the sun's power.
Even people on the Walnut Street Bridge would be able to see the river at night in the glow from a self-contained power system to light the way -- using a micro-hydro power plant.
Mayor Ron Littlefield's new Office of Sustainability hopes these futuristic plans provide more than a Chattanooga-style "green" techno demonstration or science project.
David Crockett, the director of the Office of Sustainability, says green is "in" for the new decade.
"Green is mostly common sense. It's something you can do to save money," he said. "In this day and time, getting lean also means getting green."
Across the state line in Georgia, green also is a movement whose time is come, according to recycling entrepreneur Ray Hampton, vice president for Cycle-Tex in Dalton, Ga.
"I think what really brought it home to people was when gasoline went to $5 a gallon," he said. "We all kind of realized we really do have limited resources."
In the carpet capitol of the world, Mr. Hampton recycles carpet -- salvaging the plastic backing that previously hasn't been recycled to make a raw material for automotive parts such as plastic battery trays or household goods such as plastic tubs.
"Right now, we are just at the tip of the iceberg with what can be done with recycling," Mr. Hampton said. "But as with anything in America, there has to be a monetary incentive."
In the environmental world, four words sum up the years of change since Mr. Crockett, a master salesman and former City Council member, helped forge Chattanooga's national and international image in the 1990s as an "environmental city."
Those four words are oil, climate, water and, most recently, economy.
And since most environmental change comes with a combination of government carrot and stick, Mr. Crockett and other members of the local green committee credit both new mandates and the federal stimulus as the catalysts for their bold ideas of "opportunity."
With $1.8 million in stimulus money for the city to retrofit some of its buildings for energy efficiency -- coupled with plenty of commercial and residential tax credits and grants -- local officials will be looking specifically for stormwater runoff solutions and greenhouse gas "carbon" reductions, all with lowered power and sewer bills.
"We'll be inventorying every roof in downtown Chattanooga -- either looking to see if can be made green or solar," Mr. Crockett said.
The green, grass-covered roofs would slow runoff rainwater before it can overwhelm local storm drains and flood the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment plant, causing overflow of raw sewage into the Tennessee River. The city announced recently that it faces a $50 million penalty from EPA over that problem.
The solar roofs would provide power without burning coal, which produces both greenhouse gases and waste.
Thomas Tripp, of solar design firm Big Frog Mountain Corp., said it is about time.
"I have said having solar power is like having an oil well on your property," he said. "The sun is the ultimate source of energy."
But the other green ideas are equally valuable, he said.
"The city's not temporary. The costs are ongoing, and it only makes common sense to eliminate waste. I think it's an investment that will pay off many times," he said.
Doug Stein, operator of his family's 98-year-old construction business, Stein Construction, knows water better than sun, and he advocates turning Chattanooga into "one big filter" to absorb the stormwater runoff that suddenly is tripling and quadrupling many sewer bills to pay for the $50 million federal-fix mandate.
Mr. Stein, a green committee member whose company has paved much of the region through the years, now owns 40 percent of a subsidiary company called Earthscapes, which makes and installs silt socks.
The socks --mulch blown into a biodegradable fiber tube -- catch dirt and mud being washed into streams and rivers from disturbed land. As grass grows back on the nearby land, the "sock" can be removed or left to become part of the landscaping.
Mr. Stein also installs green roofs, as well as what he calls "pervious pavement," a grid that holds up under vehicles in a parking lot but allows grass -- and runoff water -- to grow and flow through.
"The problem is that the water that lands on paved surfaces gets off too quickly and overwhelms our sewage treatment system," Mr. Stein said. "I knew it (the silt sock, pervious pavement and green roofs) was something that would help solve the clean water problem ... but I also do see some opportunity in it."
Thanks in part to government mandates and a large dose of awakening community initiative, Mr. Crockett again is determined for Chattanooga to be a leader in a decade of new federal water and air mandates.
He credits the city's green committee with "high on the cool-meter" dreams of making the city a big filter to fix the local stormwater runoff problem, and the alternative energy ideas of solar-powered buildings and bridges lit by a micro-hydro power system, which makes electricity with the water flowing beneath the bridges.
The bridge-lighting idea came from Roger Tuder, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee, Mr. Crockett said. Such systems already are in use in other countries, such as Japan.
"We run through about $6,000 worth of bulbs just on the Walnut Street Bridge every year -- and that's not including the cost of changing them," he said.
The stimulus money makes the job less painful and will allow the city to do faster, he said. And Chattanooga's $1.8 million in stimulus money will have a three-to-one return, he said.
"It's forcing a lot of people, including us, to look at every available technology that can reduce energy use and reduce the cost," he said.
Encouraging change also is easier simply because more people are buying into it, Mr. Crockett said.
From manufacturing to home building, local business owners say they are embracing environmentally friendly technologies to meet growing consumer interests.
Frank Fischer, president of the Volkswagen operation in Chattanooga, said the $1 billion factory site is being designed with state-of-the-art environmental systems.
"The whole project is aligned -- green city, green product and green plant," Mr. Fischer said during a year-end business forum at the Times Free Press. "Having a green plant is a very strong focus for us. The paint shop we are building we think is the most environmentally friendly in the world."
Stimulus energy money for public projects
* $1.8 million -- Chattanooga energy-efficiency retrofits
* $205,100 -- Calhoun, Ga., rebate on a $586,000 ground mounted solar array
* $497,079 -- Dalton, Ga., rebate on a $1.4 million solar array
Source: Chattanooga Office of Sustainability, Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority
* Solar roofs downtown to make carbon-free power
* Grass roofs to slow stormwater runoff
* Pervious pavement to slow stormwater runoff