In support of efforts to save energy, address climate change and increase the use of renewable energy sources, 2016 has been declared “Energy Year” by Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.
The title officially recognizes a series of projects the city is helping coordinate this year with utility companies, nonprofits and local businesses.
The largest effort, known as the Bellingham Energy Prize, is the city’s attempt to win $5 million as part of a two-year energy competition put on by Georgetown University.
Starting in 2015, Bellingham became one of 50 small- to medium-sized towns, cities and counties across the country to make it into the semifinals of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, and it is currently ranked in eighth place.
Each group is competing to increase energy efficiency in hopes of winning the prize while inspiring affordable and innovative ideas.
Each is tracking energy usage, carbon footprint and money savings in homes, school buildings and municipal buildings.
Bellingham’s programs include the Bellingham Energy Challenge, capital investments in city buildings and Bellingham schools, rebates and subsidies from Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas, and a water-use efficiency program.
Residents can create a free online account at BellinghamEnergyPrize.org and set up a plan to make energy-efficient changes, many of which are simple adjustments.
Are your clothes not drying in less than an hour? The site suggests taking a quick vacuum to the dryer vent that leads outside your home to clear it of lint.
Other options include suggestions such as “use power strips” to avoid “vampire” energy use by chargers and televisions; switch light bulbs from halogen to LEDs to save money and energy; add drapes and rugs to save on heating costs; and set your thermostat to lower heat levels when you’re not home so you’re not heating an empty house.
Programs and goals
Partners with the city hope to get 5,000 homes into the program in 2016, and already have 2,000 on board.
Sustainable Connections is working with the Opportunity Council to operate the Community Energy Challenge, which provides assessments for houses and businesses and helps people figure out ways to save energy.
“We help determine what will give them the biggest bang for their buck,” said Amy Vergillo, spokeswoman for Sustainable Connections.
Sustainable Connections also is working on “Solarize Whatcom,” a project to help people learn about installing locally produced solar panels and take advantage of low interest rates through Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union.
“The pricing we’ve got for Solarize is the best that Washington has ever seen, and the payback is better than anybody has ever seen,” said Rose Lathrop, who oversees the program. “If you have any inkling of doing it, I would do it right now.”
For every contract signed during the campaign, a solar panel will be donated to the Bellingham Food Bank with the help of partners Itek Energy, Ecotech Solar, and Western Solar.
To participate, people need to sign up to attend an informational workshop at SustainableConnections.org/energy/solarize-whatcom and space is very limited.
“Every $5 the food bank saves in energy equals 50 pounds of food they’re able to buy,” Lathrop said. “The biggest challenge is this is a limited-time offer. All contracts have to be signed by the end of April.”
Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas can assist customers with tax incentives and credits for switching to more efficient appliances, with many of those offers available through your online profile at BellinghamEnergyPrize.org.
PSE has a voluntary Green Power Program that enables customers to offset their carbon footprint in part or in full by buying into renewable resources.
“If you want to be carbon neutral, sign up,” said Alborz Monjazeb, the North Sound outreach coordinator for the program. “It’s about a 12 percent cost difference to be totally offset.”
The program is pushing in 2016 to keep energy dollars local — PSE has biodigesters at farms in Skagit and Whatcom counties and access to local hydropower.
When Bellingham entered the Georgetown competition, it already had a low baseline because of many efforts to increase efficiency and sustainability, said Derek Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections.
Despite that, the city has already decreased its energy usage 11 percent below that starting baseline from 2013 and 2014, Long told a small crowd at City Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
The city is in the middle of switching out all its streetlights for LEDs, Bellingham schools have taken on projects to make school buildings more efficient, and Western Washington University is also working on efficiency and outreach to residents.
Mayor Linville read a proclamation declaring 2016 Energy Year during Wednesday’s event and took a friendly jab at fellow competitor Anacortes.
Linville has pledged a basket of Bellingham goodies to the mayor of Anacortes if their city should take the prize.
“And conversely when Bellingham wins over Anacortes, Anacortes will present delectables to the city of Bellingham mayor and the city council,” Linville said.
The contest lasts through December 2016, with winners decided in 2017.
Other Washington state finalists include San Juan County, Bellevue and Walla Walla.