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WA Cities Compete for $5 Million Energy-Efficiency Prize

April 25, 2014

ANACORTES, Wash. – A handful of small cities in Washington are making an energy-saving commitment that could have a giant payoff, and more could sign up. It's a national competition with a $5 million prize, open to towns and cities with populations from 5,000 to 250,000.

Dr. Francis Slakey, a physicist and executive director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, says the adoption rate for energy-efficiency programs is only 5 percent, despite proof that they work well to save power. So, a contest raises the stakes to get more folks to try it.

"Turn on a little competition and that stirs up passions, and suddenly people take an interest,” he says. “And what's happened is, people who typically don't get involved in things, once it's a competition, there's a 50 to 60 percent increase in participation rates."

He points out that even cities that don't win the $5 million prize will win in a sense through smarter energy use.

The applications for the competition are due in June. So far in Washington, Anacortes, Bellevue, Bellingham, San Juan County and Walla Walla all say they're on board.

Anacortes is going to use the competition to build camaraderie among residents as well as energy savings, according to Facilities Manager Russ Pittis. The town already has a committee working on its contest application, and Pittis says it won't be easy, since Anacortes has made energy-efficiency a priority for almost a decade.

"We've done that with lighting retrofits, tweaking our energy management software programs and stuff like that, changing out boilers, doing more LED lighting,” he says. “So, we've grabbed that low-hanging fruit off the tree already."

If a community's application is accepted, Slakey explains, it will have two years starting in January 2015 to put their plans into effect.

"Because if we did it for a shorter period of time, then communities that were in regions that, say, weren't that cold while others were turning up their heat, then those communities would be advantaged,” he says. “So, to make it fair, we had to stretch it out over two years."

Gas and electric energy savings for schools, homes, businesses and government all must be part of the efficiency plans. The rules are online at guep.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA