Bend is poised to become a finalist in the Georgetown University Energy Prize, placing 11th out of 50 American cities vying for a $5 million prize aimed at spurring education and innovation in reducing energy consumption. The city has until the end of this year to make the top 10, enabling it to enter the final round of the competition.
The prize money will go to the community which develops the best long-term energy efficiency plan and demonstrates both its initial effectiveness and its sustainability. The winner will be decided in July 2017.
Bend is represented in the competition by the Bend Energy Challenge (BEC), a project of The Environmental Center located downtown. BEC Project Director Lindsey Hardy believes the key to winning the prize is changing attitudes about saving energy. Hardy said, "Many people don't realize what they can do to change their consumption. Our goal is to show them one person can make a difference."
Saving energy can have huge benefits for the environment, including the reduction of greenhouse gasses, which many scientists blame for the gradual increase in global temperatures. Reversing decades of manmade environmental damage may seem like an overwhelming task, so the BEC focuses on educating people about steps that are within easy reach for nearly everyone.
One of BEC's promotions is its "Do Just One Thing" program which encourages consumers to begin a simple practice every month that helps reduce energy consumption. This month's one thing is to turn down home heating thermostats by one degree Fahrenheit. Hardy said, "For every degree, you can save three percent on your monthly heating bill."
Last month's one thing was changing furnace filters, which helps furnaces run more efficiently, prolongs the operating life of the furnace and contributes to cleaner indoor air. Future tips include buying drapes and rugs that help retain warmth, and using electric tea kettles to heat water instead of stovetops and microwave ovens.
One way to cut down on electricity use is to install solar panels, but BEC Executive Director Mike Riley said most people think they're too expensive. "You generally have to come up with five thousand to seventy five hundred dollars just to make solar happen. We've heard from a lot of people who just don't have that much cash on hand." Riley said households with moderate incomes who want to tap the power of the sun may be heartened by the number of resources available, including state and federal tax credits and utility incentives that can cover as much as 80 percent of the startup costs.
The national competition focuses exclusively on energy consumption of electricity and natural gas by residences and municipal entities to keep the task of measurement manageable. Not included in the mix are petroleum consumption, and the energy use of commercial, industrial and transportation sectors of the economy. But Riley said that doesn't mean his project is ignoring Bend's business community.
Riley said, "Even though their contributions to saving energy aren't being factored into the competition, we have more than a hundred local businesses taking part in the overall effort. Some of them are letting us contact their employees directly by inviting us to speak at their employee meetings." He said some businesses have allowed BEC to hang informational posters at their locations and some have included BEC's educational messages in their companywide emails.
BEC urges local businesses as well as local residents to join its team by visiting its website at bendenergychallenge.org. The site, which provides a long list of informational resources, notes that some companies can receive a free energy assessment by the Green Impact Campaign, a non-profit organization which teaches small businesses how to mitigate climate change.
Bend's efforts to save energy since the beginning of the competition have produced impressive results.
Citing figures provided by local utilities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Hardy said that Bend's decrease in electricity and natural gas consumption in the first half of 2015, when compared to the same period in 2014, was the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 6,883 vehicles being driven for one year.
To help ensure accurate reporting of energy usage data during the competition, three major power suppliers to the Bend area—Pacific Power, Central Electric Cooperative and Cascade Natural Gas—are communicating directly with the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Pacific Power regional business manager Angela Price said her company is also participating in steering committees and providing funding to support local outreach efforts. When asked how a power company stands to gain by its customers using less power, Price replied, "We generate and supply power to our customers and it takes investment and ongoing costs to do this. The cheapest power plant to build is the one you don't have to build."
Upcoming BEC events include Pop-up Lighting Fairs: March 23 at The Environmental Center and on April 13 at Central Oregon Community College, held in conjunction with Energy Trust of Oregon.