Final Round

Bellingham a finalist in national energy competition

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bellingham has advanced with nine other cities to the final round of competition for the Georgetown University Energy Prize, which recognizes top performing communities for increasing energy efficiency and reducing municipal and household energy budgets. The winner—to be announced this month—will earn $5 million to fund their “dream project.”
Bellingham is among a number of cities and counties that have advanced to the last round of the national competition that rethinks the way America’s small- to medium-sized towns, cities and counties use energy. Bellingham joins Washington cities Walla Walla and Bellevue in the top 10, out of 50 competing cities nationally.

The Georgetown University Energy Prize was conceived as a friendly challenge among communities across the country to come together to significantly raise the bar on energy efficiency. The multi-year prize was born to develop sustainable energy-saving innovations by tapping the imagination, creativity and spirit of competition among communities across the country.

In December, a panel of judges representing academia and industry will evaluate each community’s approach to innovative, replicable, scalable energy-efficiency programs and will select a winning community based on a combination of energy performance scores and the advancement of new best practices over the course of the 2015-16 energy-saving period.

“Bellingham is at the forefront of a nationwide competition to bring together communities with a shared goal of reducing energy consumption,” Energy Prize executive director Uwe Brandes said. “This is a national effort, so participants were encouraged to find solutions that were likely to yield continuing improvements within their own communities and also inspire replication in other communities.”

Bellingham’s prize campaign was greatly assisted by the community’s cooperative relationship with its two commercial utilities, Cascade Natural Gas Corporation (CNGC) and Puget Sound Energy (PSE).  The utilities provided substantial rebates for energy-efficiency projects and supported the project in numerous ways.

“It’s been an incredible journey for PSE to partner with our cities and communities and show leadership on a national level,” Pinky Vargas, PSE Senior Business Account Manager and a representative on Bellingham City Council, said. “Together we made a dramatic impact on the environment by educating and implementing energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint, thanks to the wonderful, dedicated people in Bellingham.”   

“We are so proud to be part of a community who continues to find innovative ways to reduce energy and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Derek Long, Executive Director of Sustainable Connections. “The competition from Georgetown University strengthened our relationships with regional partners and encouraged our city to save even more energy, so we already feel like winners.”

Highlight of the Bellingham community’s efforts include:

• Recruiting 60 local businesses to inform their employees about the prize, host community events, and co-promote the prize. These partnerships resulted in some extraordinary creative efforts—such as a full-size wrap of a new SSC garbage truck with BEP messaging, and “Happy Hours of Power” events at local breweries.

• Bellingham was selected for PSE’s Green Power Challenge in 2016 and exceeded the campaign target by almost twofold, winning a $50,000 grant from PSE for a solar array, to be located on a popular overwater walkway on the Bellingham waterfront.

• The community ran a Solarize Whatcom campaign in 2016 that resulted in 47 signed contracts, $1,200,237 in solar investment, and installation of 311.15 kW of new solar capacity. Bellingham was named a “Northwest Solar Community” in a proclamation by Governor Jay Inslee in 2016.

• Bellingham Public Schools made major upgrades of facilities, including a major energy retrofit of Bellingham High School, and completed energy-efficient new construction in two elementary schools. The City of Bellingham invested in a $4 million upgrade of all 3,600 City-owned streetlights in 2016, saving an estimated 2,204,210 kWh of electricity and $200,000 annually in electric bills.

Also of note was continued delivery of whole-house energy audits and energy-saving projects by the Community Energy Challenge (CEC), a partnership of the Opportunity Council and Sustainable Connections. In order to broaden the reach of the CEC, a sliding-scale pilot was developed during the campaign to reduce the cost to moderate-income families. A Toward Net Zero pilot project sought innovative ways to support deep energy retrofits of detached and multi-family residences.

Western Washington University’s Institute for Energy Studies (IES) provided interns who supported many facets of the project and who piloted “Project Rent” at the Western Washington University to provide energy efficiency education on campus.  Additional school energy education was provide by RE Sources for Sustainable Community’s Green Classroom program, which operates in public schools countywide. 

“Community partners are moving forward with new energy-saving ideas all the time,” City Council President Michael Lilliquist said. “For example, the city will be hiring a new building engineer to oversee calibration of advanced heating systems for optimal use, and to carry forward upgrades identified in a recent energy audit of 41 municipal facilities.”

In December, the Energy Prize Judging Panel will review final reports about each community’s energy-saving plan, performance and future prospects. The final reports will be scored on innovation, potential for replication, likely future performance, equitable access, community and stakeholder engagement, and community education. The judging panel will select a winning community based on the combination of these scores and the energy savings achieved during 2015 and 2016.

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