Bellingham competes for $5M energy efficiency prize

The city will compete as one of 50 communities around the country to increase energy efficiency over the next two years in the hopes of winning a $5 million prize.

On Wednesday, Jan. 14, Bellingham announced it will go up against other small- to medium-sized towns, cities and counties in the semifinals of the Georgetown University Energy Prize. The city was among the 50 entries of more than 70 applicants to make it through the quarterfinals in the friendly contest.

The semifinal round starts this month, and will continue through the end of 2016, giving each community two years to show how their projects are reducing utility-supplied gas and electric use. The goal is for each project to be easily replicated in other places.

In Washington state, Anacortes, Bellevue, Walla Walla and San Juan County also are participating in the contest.

Bellingham’s plan includes building on a handful of current programs, encouraging more people participate in them, as well as introducing some new projects.

Current programs include the Community 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.

Planned projects include targeting employees of large businesses or employers to encourage household-level efficiency; reaching out to homeowners to encourage efficiency upgrades for low- and moderate-income residents; creating a student-led energy information campaign with utility companies to focus on cheaper upgrades such as LED lighting; updating elements of the Community Energy Challenge to make it easier for low-income people to participate; and upgrading street lights to LED lighting.

According to the city’s plan, a few ideas that might need more work but could be part of the contest include: creating a Community Energy Center to showcase efficient appliances and help people buy them; a high school education campaign; an online efficiency tracking website or program modeled on a similar program in Frederick County, Md.; and a campaign to increase energy-efficient retrofits in the city’s rental units.

The winner will be picked in 2017.