With all the news about what is being cut at City Hall, an item about a new addition to the payroll did not get much attention.

On Thursday, which happened to be Earth Day, the city hired its first “sustainability coordinator” who will be charged with designing projects and operations that conserve energy and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Ian Houseal will work in the city manager’s office and will be paid through a federal grant that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Portland has 55 municipal buildings and spends roughly $8 million a year on energy. Roughly $168,000 of the nearly $700,000 grant would be used to pay Houseal for the next three years. The rest of the money will be used for energy conservation and efficiency improvements.

While adding a position to the city staff at a time when others are being cut may sound odd, it actually makes sense if the efficiencies he identifies save more than what he will earn.

Energy conservation is a too-often-overlooked resource. A small investment can be leveraged into real and permanent savings that get bigger as energy prices climb.

Some of the conservation efforts would not even require investments. They could be as simple as shutting off lights and computers when they are not in use.

Houseal has a background in architecture and city planning, and has recently supervised energy efficiency projects in Lewiston.

He will be a welcome addition to a city that is weathering a multi-year budget crisis, during which revenue losses have put pressure on city services and taxpayers. The question should not be whether Portland can afford to fill a sustainability position, but if it can afford not to.


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