Whatcom View: Everyone can help city win energy prize

Bellingham lights up at dusk below the WWU campus.
Bellingham lights up at dusk below the WWU campus. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham residents certainly aren’t new to the idea of saving energy. Over the past several years many of us have taken measures to improve our homes, adopted new habits at work and school, and in general, have learned more about the effects of using energy on our environment. Overall, this has resulted in a reduction of energy use, healthier homes and buildings, saving money on our energy bills, and the good feeling of being thoughtful stewards of our planet.

Turns out we have a pretty big incentive to dig even deeper and to save more energy. The city of Bellingham is ranked No. 8 out of 50 semi-finalists in a national competition to win the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Whichever community reduces its energy use most and sets a good example for others to follow will win a jackpot of $5 million. If we win, and we know we can, the winning funds will be used on local projects that will help our community save in bigger ways that benefit us all.

Schools and government buildings are saving energy like never before. The city of Bellingham is currently converting all city-owned streetlights to more energy efficient light emitting diode (LED) fixtures. The LED conversion is projected to cut energy consumption from streetlights by half, reducing approximately 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide output annually. In addition, it has completed numerous improvements on multiple city-owned buildings. Whether it’s 28 programmable thermostats at Whatcom Museum, boiler replacements at Fire Station 5 and the Central Library, or insulation added to the Federal Building, the city of Bellingham is committed to reducing energy in an effort to win the Georgetown University Energy Prize and as part of their climate action plan.

... winning funds will be used on local projects that will help our community save in bigger ways that benefit us all.

One of the biggest single projects that Bellingham Public Schools recently completed was at Bellingham High School. It replaced inefficient lighting in the commons and on the exterior with LED lights and installed energy efficiency controls on pump motors to ensure they don’t run when they aren’t needed. Additional LED lighting replacement projects also included a major lighting replacement project at Geneva Elementary School where 625 fluorescent fixtures were replaced with LED lighting. The district also upgraded (or is in the process of upgrading) heating, ventilation and cooling operating systems at six schools, allowing a more discriminate “need based” use of energy. Looking toward the future, the new Sehome High School may include resource conservation aspects with solar, water and energy-reduction features as well.

Last spring, Western Washington University was recognized by Puget Sound Energy for the more than 20 projects the two entities have partnered on together, and for the energy savings accrued through the campus’ behavior change campaigns that resulted in more than 5 million kilowatt hours saved and $750,000 from PSE in incentive funding. WWU is also on the forefront of new technology. A team of Western students recently unveiled groundbreaking work by their Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Center on a transparent solar collector called the Smart Solar Window. The student team unveiled the collector at a series of competitions culminating in the P3 Competition in Washington, D.C., where they were awarded first place and a $75,000 prize.

That’s not all that’s happening on the energy front in Bellingham, though. Local utilities such as Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas are offering energy-saving rebates and incentives for homes and businesses to conserve energy, too. In Bellingham alone, the Community Energy Challenge, a program run by Sustainable Connections and the Opportunity Council, has completed 946 home energy assessments and 280 commercial energy assessments since the program began in 2009. In addition to the economic benefits of the program, energy savings from completed projects are quite impressive. Residential projects in Bellingham to date result in an estimated 3,785,762 kilowatt hours in annual energy savings, the equivalent of reducing carbon emissions by 1,414 metric tons annually or removing 550 cars from the road each year. The Community Energy Challenge estimates that the energy saved on these residential projects results in a cumulative estimated dollar savings on utility bills of over $192,413.

Bellingham is a community that is rich in the resources needed to help each and every citizen save energy in their homes, at their places of work and at school — just about anywhere energy is used. We need every resident in Bellingham to do their part to reduce energy consumption. Not sure there’s anything more you can do? Check out BellinghamEnergyPrize.org. It’s a new website crafted by the folks at The Bellingham Energy Prize, a group of organizations bringing energy-saving resources together. Want to talk to someone in person? You’re in luck. The Bellingham Energy Prize partners will be at a celebration on Feb. 3 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at City Hall featuring Mayor Kelli Linville proclaiming 2016 as “Energy Year in the City of Bellingham.” From the words of the Bellingham Energy Prize mascot Kilowatt Kitty, we need everyone to save energy “Right Meow!”

Amy Vergillo wrote this on behalf of the Bellingham Energy Prize program partners: city of Bellingham, Puget Sound Energy, the Opportunity Council, Cascade Natural Gas, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Bellingham Public Schools, Western Washington University, Sustainable Connections and the Northwest Clean Air Agency.