Over the past two years, you may have wondered at the crew of people in Americorps gear, riding around Bend on bikes laden with boxes of LED bulbs. Whether in snow or in sleet, the crew has been working to get the word out about the incredible energy savings you can get by replacing your home's old incandescent bulbs with LEDs.
Call them the fairies of stuff that's not only free, but ends up saving you lots of money on your annual utility bill. And no, there's no catch.
For the past two years, Bend has been one of 50 semifinalists vying for the Georgetown University Energy Prize—a coveted award with a $5 million prize purse. The competition "challenges towns, cities, and counties to rethink their energy use, and implement creative strategies to increase efficiency—including cutting down on energy usage."
A quick look at Bend's efforts thus far shows that the numbers do really add up. Among the efforts that have been part of the Bend Energy Challenge is the free LED program, offering the free installation of up to 16 LED bulbs and low-flow shower heads in any home within the city limits of Bend. Since beginning the installation program in November 2105, crews have installed LED bulbs in 2,300 homes; or roughly 10 percent of homes within the city limits. In addition, crews have installed 1,248 shower fixtures and 1,371 aerators.
For the LEDs, that Represents:
· 1,270,455 reduction in pounds of CO2
· 1,907,590 reduction in KWH/year
As reported in the Source Weekly in February, Bend's decrease in electricity and natural gas consumption in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014 was the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of driving 6,883 vehicles for one year, according to BEC.
The national competition is focused on consumption of electricity and natural gas by residences and municipal entities. Not included is petroleum consumption, and the energy consumption of the commercial, industrial and transportation sectors.
The 50 communities taking part in this semifinal round have had the past two years to tackle lowering energy usage, as well as educating the public, and working with local businesses and governments to implement plans for sustained energy efficiency in the community...with at least a partial goal of winning that pot of money.
But with the semifinalist portion wrapping up at the end of 2016, it isn't looking like Bend will make the top spot, says Neil Baunsgard, LED Lighting Guru for the Bend Energy Challenge.
"As of now we're still in 11th place, but we won't know really much until we get everything all wrapped up and send everything to Georgetown," says Baunsgard. That placement could still put Bend in the final round of the competition, but it's too soon to tell. Regardless, a winner will be chosen by July 2017.
Baunsgard says in terms of the success of the LED program, there have been varying tides of interest.
"Getting mass adoption of programs is difficult," Baunsgard reflects, but at times, it's more challenging than others. "We had an Americorps team last fall, last November, December, and we were hoping to get 200 people signed up and get to 100 homes. We put our first ad in the Source and we had 700 people sign up."
Expansion of the Program
With the closing of the semifinal competition window, it could have been lights out for the program—except the team found out this month it would not only be continuing into 2017, but also expanding.
"We're expanding our area so we're now going to do Bend (including outside the city limits) and up to Tumalo and Redmond." Up to now, people in those areas could sign up for an Energy Saver Kit through the Energy Trust of Oregon—but didn't qualify for the free in-person install. With the expansion into those new areas, Baunsgard expects the LED team to be hopping—so long as the word gets out.
"The biggest challenge is getting people to sign up and the hardest thing is getting people to believe free, so the messaging is challenging." A lot of people are skeptical about anything that's attached with the "free" moniker, thinking there's some other agenda at work. In this case, though, there isn't.
"There's really no catch," Baunsgard says, "as long as you're in our service area and you have lightbulbs that need to be changed."
The Bend Energy Challenge
A Project of the Environmental Center
16 NW Kansas Ave., Bend
541-385-6908 or 541-385-3370